LONDON -- One of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's close aides was assassinated today in a suicide attack by a man who grabbed the religious leader and exploded a grenade held between them, the official Iranian news agency said.
The attack on Ayatollah Ataollah Ashrafi-Esfahani, 83, who was Khomeini's special representative in Bakhtaran, formerly known as Kermanshah, came as he spoke at a mosque prayer meeting in the city 260 miles southwest of Tehran.
Several other people were wounded in the attack, including the ayatollah's son, who suffered slight injuries and was in satisfactory condition, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said.
The Paris-based Mojahideen Khalq guerrilla group took responsibility for the assassination, saying Ashrafi-Esfahani 'was directly responsible for the execution of hundreds of people in the western Iranian cities of Ilam, Hanedan and Kermanshah.'
In phone calls to new agencies to London, the Mojahideen spokesman said the 'suicide-assassination' operation was made to 'punish top accomplices of Khomeini.'
IRNA said, 'The terrorist approached the Friday prayer leader and held him in his arm, while pulling the safety pin from the grenade.'
Ashrafi-Esfahani was the fourth ayatollah to be assassinated in three years. He escaped three previous attempts on his life, IRNA said. The ayatollahs are the top Moslem leaders in Iran.
The three other ayatollahs 'martyred by United States mercenaries' were Ayatollah Sadduqi, killed in in Yazd last July, Ayatollah Dastgeib killed in Shiraz, and Ayatollah Madani killed in Tabriz, IRNA said.
'United States mercenaries' is a derisive term used to describe the underground Mojahideen Khalq guerrilla organization of Massoud Rajavi, who leads the group from his Paris exile.
The Mojahideen spokesman said six representatives of Khomeini in various towns have been the target of similar 'kamikaze' attacks by Mojahideen guerrillas. Only one of the victims survived the attacks.
IRNA said the Mojahideen guerrillas have been supported by 'international organizations which preach human rights, while the true humanitarian and justice-seeking country, the Islamic Republic, has been numerously condemned for its execution of these murderers.'
IRNA said the slain ayatollah had taught religious studies in Bakhtaran for 30 years and was one of the most respected religious scholars in Iran.