Cinema Rex fire

Last updated

Cinema Rex fire
Location Abadan, Iran
Date19 August 1978
20:21 (IRST)
Attack type
Arson, mass murder, terrorism

The Cinema Rex Fire (Persian : آتش‌سوزی سینما رکس) took place on 19 August 1978, when the Cinema Rex, located in Abadan, Iran, was set ablaze, killing at least 420 civilians. [1] The event started when four men doused the place with airplane fuel before setting it alight. [2]

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian subdivision of the Indo-European languages. It is a pluricentric language predominantly spoken and used officially within Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan in three mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Iranian Persian, Dari Persian and Tajik Persian. It is also spoken natively in the Tajik variety by a significant population within Uzbekistan, as well as within other regions with a Persianate history in the cultural sphere of Greater Iran. It is written officially within Iran and Afghanistan in the Persian alphabet, a derivation of the Arabic script, and within Tajikistan in the Tajik alphabet, a derivation of Cyrillic.

Abadan, Iran City in Khuzestan, Iran

Abadan is a city and capital of Abadan County, Khuzestan Province which is located in the southwest of Iran. It lies on Abadan Island, the island is bounded in the west by the Arvand waterway and to the east by the Bahmanshir outlet of the Karun River, 53 kilometres (33 mi) from the Persian Gulf, near the Iran–Iraq border.

Iran Islamic Republic in Western Asia

Iran, also called Persia, and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With 82 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Its territory spans 1,648,195 km2 (636,372 sq mi), making it the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. Its central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the capital, largest city, and leading economic and cultural center.


The ruling Pahlavi regime of Iran initially blamed "Islamic Marxists" for the fire [3] and later reported that Islamic militants started the fire, [4] [5] [6] [7] while the anti-Pahlavi protesters blamed the intelligence service of the nation, SAVAK for setting the fire. [8] [9]

Pahlavi dynasty Dynasty that ruled Iran from 1925 until 1979

The Pahlavi dynasty was the last ruling house of the Imperial State of Iran from 1925 until 1979, when the Persian monarchy was overthrown and abolished as a result of the Iranian Revolution. The dynasty was founded by Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1925, a former brigadier-general of the Persian Cossack Brigade, whose reign lasted until 1941 when he was forced to abdicate by the Allies after the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran. He was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.


SAVAK was the secret police, domestic security and intelligence service in Iran during the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty. It was established by Mohammad Reza Shah with the help of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Israeli MOSSAD. SAVAK operated from 1957 until the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when the prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar ordered its dissolution during the outbreak of Iranian Revolution. SAVAK has been described as Iran's "most hated and feared institution" prior to the revolution of 1979 because of its practice of torturing and executing opponents of the Pahlavi regime. At its peak, the organization had as many as 60,000 agents serving in its ranks according to one source, and another source by Gholam Reza Afkhami estimates SAVAK staffing at between 4,000 and 6,000.


On 19 August 1978 at the Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, hundreds of people were watching The Deer [10] when, at 20:21, four men barred the doors of the cinema and doused it with petrol from a can. The fire started outside three entrance doors to the main hall, after the attackers allegedly dropped a match into the petrol. The attackers then fled and blocked the doors from the outside. Some people attempted to escape by the roof. [11]

Death toll

There is speculation over the actual number of casualties incurred during the fire. Some of the numbers cited by sources include 377, [12] [13] 410, [14] 430, [15] 422, [16] and more than 800. [17]

Motives and responsibility

There have been numerous allegations in the past regarding the circumstances which led to the Cinema Rex fire, however it is certain that it was a key event that triggered the Iranian revolution in 1978. Initially, the revolutionaries alleged that intelligence SAVAK agents were in pursuit of individuals who ran into the movie theatre and used it as an opportunity to hide in a large crowd at the cinema. Later, either the fugitives, or the SAVAK agents chasing them decided to lock the doors of the cinema. Unable to escape from the building, everyone inside the cinema died as a result of the conflagration. The Iranian newspaper Sobhe Emruz pointed fingers at the radical Islamists in an editorial, "Don't make us disclose who were really behind the Cinema Rex fire" they said. This caused the newspaper to be shut down shortly after. [18] [19] [20] [21] [18]

Post-Islamic revolution follow up of the case

According to the Washington-based IranRights the families of the victims followed up the case and the newly established Iranian Government arrested Captain Monir Taheri. The Revolutionary Tribunal of Rudsar showed that Captain Taheri had received guerrilla training in the United States, while the defense maintained that Taheri had never visited Abadan, stressing that he was in Ahvaz at the time of the blaze. The revolutionary tribunal found Taheri "guilty" and executed him shortly thereafter on 23 February 1979. [22]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of more than 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Ahvaz City in Khuzestan, Iran

Ahvaz is a city in the southwest of Iran and the capital of Khuzestan province. Ahvaz's population is about 1,300,000 and its built-up area with the nearby town of Sheybani is home to 1,136,989 inhabitants. It is home to Persians, Arabs, Lurs (Bakhtiaris), Dezfulis, Shushtaris, etc. and different languages are spoken in it, such as Persian, Arabic, the Persian dialects of Luri (Bakhtiari), Dezfuli, Shushtari, etc.

Books and references

Dillip Hiro, author of Iran Under the Ayatollahs, said that anti-Shah groups were not likely to have caused the fire, since the Cinema Rex was located in a working-class neighbourhood and was showing the film Gavaznha ; Hiro added that Gavaznha "passed the censors with considerable difficulty." Hiro also said that the deliberate closure of the cinema doors and the local fire station's efforts, which Hiro described as "tepid", strengthened the public belief that the Shah had the cinema burned. [9]

According to Roy Mottahedeh, author of The Mantle of the Prophet, "thousands of Iranians who had felt neutral and had until now thought that the struggle was only between the shah and supporters of religiously conservative mullahs felt that the government might put their own lives on the block to save itself. Suddenly, for hundreds of thousands, the movement was their own business." [23]

According to Daniel L. Byman, "The movies were an affront to God, encouraging vice and Western-style decadence. So in August 1978, four Shiite revolutionaries locked the doors of the Cinema Rex in the Iranian city of Abadan and set the theater on fire…". [24]

As the event took place during the revolutionary period, it was quite difficult to make out who the perpetrator(s) was (were), making ill-conceived accusations rather prevalent. Many elements of the revolutionary bloc laid blame on Mohammad Reza Shah, the now deposed monarch of Iran, and SAVAK (Sazeman-e Ettelaat va Amniyat-e Keshvar), the country's domestic security and intelligence service. Although sufficient evidence was never brought forth to facilitate such claims, the labeling would have far-reaching implications on the subsequent direction of the revolutionary movement. The circumstances in which the fire was set did not aid in the Shah's pleas of innocence either. The timing and the location of the incident (an impoverished district of Abadan) did not coincide with preceding patterns of protestation, which raised the level of suspicion. It was also believed that the Shah specifically targeted Cinema Rex for the sole purpose of killing political dissidents who had gathered to watch a controversial anti-government film called Gavaznha (The Deer) starring well-known actor Behrouz Vossoughi. [15] [25] [26]

Public trial

Lasting from 25 August to 4 September 1980, the Revolutionary Tribunal would oversee seventeen court sessions that involved the trial of twenty-six individuals, including the only survivor of the four-man arson team. Hossein Takbalizadeh, the lone surviving arsonist, stated in his defense that he was an unemployed drug addict. After much deliberation, Takbalizadeh and five others were put to death in public. [27] [28]

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Coordinates: 30°20′06″N48°16′59″E / 30.3349°N 48.2830°E / 30.3349; 48.2830