PARIS -- Iran's fugitive ex-President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr made a daring 2,600-mile escape from Tehran Wednesday aboard a hijacked Iranian air force jet and France immediately granted asylum to him and four supporters.
Bani-Sadr, 48, shorn of his black moustache, told reporters he would stay in France 'until the Iranian people again find the path of democracy and a life worthy of that name.'
'So we have come here to organize the resistance,' said Majoud Radjavi, leader of the guerrilla group Mujahideen Khalq that protected Bani-Sadr during his 49 days in hiding in downtown Tehran and who escaped with him.
Iran said the Boeing 707 tanker plane that brought Bani-Sadr to the Evreux military airbase outside Paris before dawn had been hijacked and demanded France return Bani-Sadr to Tehran.
But Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson said flatly, 'there will be no extradition for political crimes or offenses' and the former Iranian leader was provided a guard of French police at an apartment outside Paris.
French spokesmen said the plane and four crewmembers would be sent back to Iran. But the pilot, who once flew for the shah, two majors and Radjavi all were granted political asylum along with Bani-Sadr, who had not been seen since June 10.
Bani-Sadr appeared for a short meeting with reporters but later canceled a press conference after signing a pledge requested by France to desist from political activity.
During a year's exile in France before returning to Iran to head the revolution that overthrew the shah, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini also pledged to refrain from political activity.
Bani-Sadr's pilot on the midnight flight out of Tehran, Col. Bezhad Moezi, had arranged to take out the tanker plane on a night training mission but then smuggled Bani-Sadr aboard and headed for Turkey with Iranian fighter planes in pursuit.
Although Bani-Sadr had been reported hiding in the Iranian mountains among Kurdish rebels, Radjavi said the former president had stayed at his home in Tehran.
During the weekend, Bani-Sadr announced in a clandestine radio broadcast that he had appointed Radjavi as his prime minister in a shadow government.
Bani-Sadr was taken under police escort to the apartment in the working class suburb of Cachan where he lived until the shah's fall in 1979. Riot policemen in bullet-proof vests ringed the dun-colored 10-story building and sharpshooters perched on the roof.
In Tehran, former hostage negotiator and likely future Prime Minister Behzad Nabavi called Bani-Sadr's flight 'a sign of the demise of Bani-Sadr's front and the line of compromise with America,' Tehran Radio said.