Iran's Intelligence Ministry claimed on Saturday August 1 that it has arrested "the ringleader" of what it called the US-based “terrorist” group Tondar [Thunder].
Iranian official news agency IRNA quoted the Ministry as having said that the arrest was a "a heavy and serious blow" to the group.
Tondar is an offshoot of the monarchist group, the Royal Association whose leader Fathollah Manouchehri also known as Foroud Fouladvand disappeared during a visit to Turkey in the 2007 with two of his aides. Iranian opposition groups in the West have at the time accused Iran of abducting Manouchehri.
Manouchehri used to run an opposition TV station in London that operated under the name of Shoma [You] and broadcast programs that seriously annoyed the officials of the Islamic Republic.
The statement by the Intelligence Ministry does not name the individual it says it has arrested but government-controlled media has named him as Jamshid Sharmahed.
Sharmahd had said in an old video aired by Persian broadcasters outside Iran that some of the members of the Royal Association believe he is their leader while some others still recognize Manouchehri as the group's leader.
According to the Intelligence Ministry statement that was published by IRNA, "Sharmahd, who guided armed and sabotage acts against Iran from the U.S., was arrested in complicated operations by the Iranian security forces and is now in the hands of the country’s intelligence ministry."
Being "in the hands of the country’s intelligence ministry" is a jargon that has been previously used to describe individuals abducted abroad but have still not arrived in Iran. It was used most recently to describe Rouhollah Zam, the editor of Amad News Telegram Channel Iranian agents abducted in Iraq and later brought to Iran.
The Intelligence Ministry promised in its statement that it will give away more details about the arrest later.
Various Iranians on social media have said that Tehran is going to use Sharmahd to justify recent explosions and fires at strategic targets in Iran including Natanz nuclear establishment and some military installations near Tehran.
According to Iranian sources including IRNA, Tondar had claimed responsibility for a January 2010 explosion at a mausoleum in Shiraz which killed 14 and left over 200 others wounded.
At the time, Iran claimed that two young men, Arash Rahmanipour and Mohammad Reza Alizamani had planted the bomb and that they were the members of the Royal Association. Iran later announced that it has executed the two men. However, at the same time, prisoners who were in jail with the two said that they strongly denied any involvement in the bombing.
According to the Intelligence Ministry, the two men were charged with "fighting against Allah and attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic regime."
IRNA added that Tondar had also plotted several other terrorist acts in Iran in recent years, including plots to blow up Sivand dam in Shiraz, detonating a cyanide bomb at the Tehran book fair and planting bombs during gatherings at Ayatollah Khomeini's tomb. The agency added that "all ofthese terrorist plots were foiled by the Iranian security forces," meaning that the attacks never happened.
In 2010, Iranian officials said they had arrested and hanged three of the group's members, Mohsen Eslamian, Ali Asghar Pashtar and Rouzbeh Yahyazadeh.
The executions were widely criticized by international human rights watchdogs in 2010.
Tondar or the Royal Association was established in 2001 by Manouchehri, who was a filmmaker in Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Following Manouchehri's abduction in Hakkari in Turkey on 17 January 2007, Amnesty International reported that Manouchehri and his aides were in jail in Tehran. However, their whereabouts is still not known after 13 years.
Sharmahd who took over after Manouchehri claimed responsibility for the blast at the Shiraz mausoleum. The group disclosed information in 2010 which indicated the Iranian Intelligence Ministry had plans to assassinate him.
Mohammad Reza Sadeqnia, the man the Iranian Intelligence Ministry sent to the United States to assassinate Sharmahd was arrested and briefly jailed in the United States but he returned to Iran later.
In 2013, the Royal Association announced that it was not an armed group and that Tondar website was not linked to it. Nevertheless, later the group assumed responsibility for the assassination of one of the commanders of Iran's Cyber Army and one of Iran's nuclear scientist, but Iranian officials ruled out the group's involvement in the assassinations.
In the meantime, Iranian officials accused several inmates of being members of the Royal Association, but the association refuted the claim.
The Royalist Association is against reinstating Iran's previous dynasty and believes that a young man or woman should be elected as the new king of Iran. However, it has still not named anyone.