PARIS-TEHRAN 15TH March. (IPS) Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, the main brain behind extremist conservatives was fingered out Wednesday as the man who might have ordered the assassination of Mr. Sa'id Hajjarian, the Publisher of the reformist daily "Sobhe Emrouz" and a close friend and adviser to President Mohammad Khatami.

Also number two man in the Tehran City Council (TCC) and an influent member of the Executive Committee of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) that swept the majority of seats in sixth Majles (parliament), Mr. Hajjarian was shot Sunday morning at close range by a lone killer as he was entering the City Council.

Critically wounded in the head, he was immediately transferred to Sina Hospital in central Tehran.

Doctors and specialists attending him described Wednesday his condition as "improving".

"He is still in coma, but his general condition is better than previous days", one specialist told journalists.

The killer, a professional, escaped on the back of a powerful motorcycle the type that are used only by Law Enforcement Forces and Revolutionary Guards patrols and Intelligence Ministry's special units.

According to some newspapers quoting informed sources, the killer has been identified and the motorcycle, a 1400 cc type, found.

But they did not provide more detail as to who is the terrorist nor when and where the engine has been located.

TCC member Rahamatollah Khosravi said the tape of conversation between the killers planing the assassination of Mr. Hajjarian had been handed over to the Supreme Council of National Security (SCNS).

He did not revealed how the TCC was in possession of such an important document but told "Asre Azadegan" that in agreement with the SCNS, the Council would abstain from disclosing the conversation.

"However, we would make the tape public in case the officials do not take proper action in arresting the killers and identifying those who ordered the attempt", he warned.

But some analysts said in order to calm down the people's anger and divert the attention, Ayatollah Khameneh'i may urge security forces he controls to postpone any information on the assassination attempt to until after the long Iranian New Year holiday that starts on 20 March.

Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi became famous after he ruled out that anyone who questions Islam's basic principles could be killed by faithful Muslim anywhere and without trial.

Nicknamed "Ayatollah Temsah" (crocodile), he is highly praised by the leader of the Islamic Republic who considers him as one of Islam's most learned clerics.

In an article written in the reformist "Asre azadegan", Mr. Ebrahim Yazdi, the general secretary of the Iran Freedom Movement called on Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi to either come out and say publicly that he ordered the assassination of Mr. Hajjarian or to condemn the terrorist act.

"When Mr. Navvab Safavi (the leader of the Feda'iyan e Eslam terrorist organisation) would kill opponents, he would admit without hesitation. The same, grand Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini publicly sentenced Salam Rushdie to death. Now, it is your turn to have the courage of your deed", Dr Yazdi challenged.

An MP from the outgoing Majles noted that some extremist conservative clerics considers the reformists as atheists and think that issuing fatwas against them is a religious duty that is also a safe passage to heaven. "In their view, Mr. Hajjarian is an atheist", he pointed out in an indirect reference to Mr. Mesbah Yazdi.

Observers and analysts also noted it is under the influence and rulings of hawkish clerics such as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati and Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, all of them close to the leader, that high ranking Revolutionary Guards commanders dare to utter threats and menaces against reformist journalists, intellectuals and students.

"When Revolutionary Guard Commander General Rahim Yahya Safavi menaces reformists of cutting their tongues, hands and feet, when Revolutionary Guard Mohammad Reza Naqdi publicly announces that he would kill dissident students with his own hands and they receive no blame, no wonder Sa'id Hajjarian falls victim of terrorist", one political analyst noted in a Tehran daily.

Mr. Akbar Ganji, the investigative journalist who, in a series of article written in Mr. Hajjarian's "Sobhe Emrouz", provided hair dressing details on the murder of tens of Iranian dissidents by the Intelligence Ministry under Hojatoleslam Ali Fallahian during former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's presidency said if those who ordered November 1998 chain murder would have been arrested, Mr. Hajjarian would not be the target of terrorists.

"If Grey Eminencies and the Master Key would have been tried, Hajjarian would not be shot. Anyone reading my articles could easily identify the eminencies and the Master Key whom, I'm sure, the authorities knows them very well", he told reporters in the hospital.

Mr. Hasan Habibi, the first vice-president also did not ruled out connection between the attempt on the life of Mr. Hajjarian with the chain murders.

"Whoever ordered the chain murders has also ordered the killing of Mr. Hajjarian", Mr. Kurosh Fouladi, a moderate MP said.

But Chairman of Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani in his first reaction to the murder attempt linked together the shooting on Mr. Hajjarian with the mortar attack on Monday on a residential area of Tehran claimed by the Iraqi-based, trained and backed Mujahedeen Khalq Organisation and a Belgian Judge's order to the police to investigate a complaint lodged against Mr. Rafsanjani by an Iranian-born Belgian citizen and drew the conclusion that the three incidents were the work of enemies of Islam and Islamic revolution. ENDS HAJJARIAN 15300