Two decades of mystery surrounding the fate of eight Iranian Jews who disappeared in 1994 came to a bitter close Thursday, as the Mossad said that the group had been murdered while attempting to emigrate to Israel.
A statement released Thursday night by the Prime Minister’s Office said the eight Jews “were caught during the escape and murdered.”
The PMO, which oversees the Mossad, said the intelligence agency had been tracking 11 Jews who had fled the Islamic Republic in four separate groups in 1994 and 1997.
In their attempts to cross the borders to neighboring countries, in hopes of eventually reaching Israel, the Jews had vanished without a trace, leaving families clinging to the hope that they had been kidnapped, or held in captivity by foreign governments.
The statement did not detail when or where the eight were killed or by whom. The PMO said the Mossad had relied on a “reliable source” for the information.
An inquiry into the fate of the additional three Iranian Jews, who were last heard from in 1997, is ongoing, the PMO said.
The eight killed Jews were Babak Shaoulian-Tehrani, 17 at the time of his disappearance, of Tehran; Shahin Nik-Khoo, 19, of Tehran; Salari Behzad, 21, of Kermanshah; Farad Ezati-Mahmoudi, 22, of Kermanshah; Homayoun Bala-Zade, 41, of Shiraz; Omid Solouki, 17, of Tehran; Rubin Kohan-Mosleh, 17, of Shiraz; and Ibrahim Kohan-Mosleh, 16, of Shiraz.
The three whose fates remain unknown are Syrous Ghahremani, 42 or 32 at time of disappearance, of Kermanshah; Ibrahim Ghahremani, 61, of Kermanshah; and Nourollah Rabi-Zade, 52, of Shiraz.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the families, and said he hoped “they are comforted by the information.” Netanyahu pledged to continue the investigation into the remaining three Iranian Jews who had disappeared.
“This is an issue that has preoccupied the intelligence agencies for over 20 years, and today we can say that the mystery has come to its end,” David Meidan, a veteran Mossad official overseeing the investigation said.
Meidan was also involved in the negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit. After retiring two years ago, Netanyahu approached Meidan with the request to expend his efforts in this case.
Meidan met with members of the bereaved families on Thursday to inform them of the findings.
The report was sent to former Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who ruled that the information was reliable — a ruling that is expected to allow the wives of the victims to remarry.
Under Jewish law, women whose husbands have disappeared are barred from marrying again until their husbands’ death is confirmed.
Israel revealed it was searching for the 11 in 2000, opening an international campaign for information about their fates.
The move followed several years of back channel contacts which revealed no information, Sallai Meridor, then head of the Jewish Agency, told the New York Times at the time.
“The original assumption was that it would be easier for the Iranians to respond positively when they were approached discreetly,” he said then. “But this assumption has not been proven correct. And we don’t think the families should have to wait any longer. It’s time for answers.”