ANKARA, Turkey -- Iran's defense minister and three other top military commanders died in an air crash near Tehran, the state-run radio reported Wednesday, leaving the country's armed forces virtually leaderless.
Government sources contacted by telephone in Tehran said the American-built C-130 Hercules transport plane crashed Tuesday at a firing range at Kahrizak, south of Tehran, as it was bringing the military brass back from the Iraqi war front.
Tehran radio said Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Seyed Musa Namju; Gen. Valiollah Fallahi, acting chief of staff of the joint command; Gen. Kolah Douz, acting commander of the revolutionary guards; and Gen. Javad Faouri, former defense minister and air force commander, were among 'a number of passengers' killed in the crash.
The radio, monitored in Ankara, Turkey, said their funerals would take place Thursday.
The government sources said an undetermined number of Iranian wounded from the war with Iraq were aboard the plane, which was flying the generals to Tehran from the frontline city of Ahvaz in southwestern Khuzistan province, the sources said.
Except for one source who said the aircraft developed a 'technical fault,' there was no official word on what caused the crash.
An official at the Tehran office of the chief of staff, contacted by telephone, said, 'Investigations into the air crash are still continuing, but at the moment we are not suspecting anyone.'
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeimi scheduled a top-level meeting with the Iran's clergy to discuss the tragedy, the government sources said.
Opposition sources said the military leaders were all known to be loyal Khomeini men who had served the Islamic leader since the 1979 revolution.
Gen. Fallahi became the armed forces chief of staff after Khomeini dismissed Abolhassan Bani-Sadr from the military command shortly before he also fired him from the presidency June 22.
Javad Fakuri, described by government circles as an adept strategist, had served Khomeini earlier as air force commander and defense minister.
Khomeini, in a message broadcast by Tehran radio, voiced 'great sorrow and grief' at the deaths, which came a day after his clerical aide in Khorassan province, Hojjatoleslam Hashemi-nejad, became the 107th victim of a wave of assassinations that began after the fall of Bani-Sadr.
In retaliation for the assassinations, the Islamic regime has executed 1,369 dissidents so far -- 156 of them after leftist Mojahideen Khalq guerrillas openly battled revolutionary guards in central Tehran Sunday.
Iranians go the the polls Friday to elect a successor to President Mohammed Ali Rajai, who was killed Aug. 13 in a bomb blast that also took the life of Prime Minister Javad Banohar.