Shock Lessens, Mystique Grows After Raid
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio (AP) _ When authorities seized weapons and explosives from a house here, and the FBI said the occupant had boasted of belonging to a secret, disbanded Iranian police agency, it was ″the cosmic slap in the forehead,″ said a lawyer in the case.
But more than a week later, people are beginning to come to grips with the raid at the home of Behrook Behzadi-Nezhad, who moved here in 1981.
It was the biggest news in years in this eastern Ohio coal town of 5,000 people where ″there’s usually nothing to do but walk the streets,″ Kelly Scott, a newsstand clerk, said Thursday.
At first, the news that an FBI raid of Nezhad’s house had netted automatic weapons and explosives ″was the cosmic slap in the forehead,″ said Terence Gurley, an attorney hired by Nezhad’s wife.
FBI affidavits unsealed Monday say Nezhad had boasted to an agency informant that he was a member of SAVAK, the secret police agency of the former shah of Iran, and had murdered as many as 300 people worldwide.
An unidentified source told the FBI that Nezhad pumped submachine gun fire into the suburban Boston home of an Iranian businessman last month to frighten the man into paying a debt, according to the affadavit.
No one was injured, but the affadavit said the shooting prompted FBI agents to begin tracking Nezhad and culminated the raid at his home.
Meanwhile, Nezhad was nowhere to be found. But federal authorities said they believed he was being held on suspicion of murder in the United Arab Emirates. U.S. officials have not charged Nezhad with any crime.
Neither the FBI nor Nezhad’s attorneys have said what Nezhad may have been doing with the weapons and explosives.
As the news of the raid spread, friends and neighbors gathered to try to sort facts from rumors, said Nikki Filicky, who runs a restaurant in the four- block business district.
″We’ve had 50 different people in here and 50 different theories,″ she said.
″In general, the people have reacted very well,″ said Belmont County Sheriff Tom McCort. ″I was afraid at first that there might be some discrimination against the other Iranians here, but that hasn’t happened.″
For decades, McCort said, the area’s steel and coal-mining industries have brought immigrants here, and he speculated that may have appealed to Nezhad.
However, McCort said there could have been other attractions.
″There are a lot of abandoned mines to hide things in, and you could steal explosives from (working) coal mines,″ he said. Lists of area coal mine locations were found in the raid, he said.
Nezhad ″didn’t seem to be hiding out, living in a tenement and driving a gypsy cab,″ said Gurley, who has been unable to contact Nezhad.
Nezhad was an honorary sheriff’s deputy under McCort’s predecessor and lived in a prosperous subdivision, across the street from the assistant county prosecutor.
In addition, he operated a martial arts academy in nearby Bridgeport and occasionally gave karate demonstrations on television.
McCort said Nezhad presented himself as a tough guy.
″He had pictures in his house of him jumping in the air, kicking flower pots, breaking boards,″ he said.