On the morning of Monday, May 23, 2022, social media was swept by horrific news; the collapse of the ten-story twin towers of Metropole in Abadan city, the southwestern province of Khuzestan. The catastrophe left at least 28 dead, more than 55 injured, and nearly 100 trapped under the rubble. However, the actual number is much higher.
“The construction of the Metropole twin towers as the largest and most complete medical, administrative, recreational, commercial, and multi-story parking was in the final stages. It had been stopped due to technical reasons,” the semiofficial ILNA news agency reported.
The tower collapse also damaged dozens of people’s vehicles parked in the street and raised a cloud of dense dust that engulfed almost the entire street. “The destruction was as substantial as those shocked residential buildings in the vicinity of the Metropole,” locals said.
The situation is fragile. “Based on primary estimations, the adjunct buildings to the collapsed tower are not in stable conditions,” said Vahid Sha’bani, the Red Crescent head in Khuzestan, to the Mehr news agency. “An evacuation order has been issued for the suburban areas.” Notably, most of the buildings in this district are commercial, medical, and administrative.
In the meantime, provincial governor Sadegh Khalilian ordered the Red Crescent head, Abadan Medical Sciences University dean Mohammad Esmail Motlaq, and Abadan governor Ehsan Abbaspour to keep the death toll secret. “Just declare the number of injured citizens,” he said.
Furthermore, the authorities failed to provide machinery for rescue teams 12 hours after the collapse. Firefighters were rushed to the site from across the province; however, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) refused to allocate cargo planes to transfer necessary equipment from Tehran and other major cities.
Instead, authorities dispatched dozens of security forces and anti-riot units, fearing public anger over the catastrophe. However, they failed to curb people’s protests as many citizens took to the streets. “This is a mourning day; abandoned Abadan grieves” and “Callous officials!” citizens chant, venting their anger over the officials’ indifference and poor response.
May 23 – #Abadan, southwest #Iran
"Callous officials!" angry locals were seen chanting.
Regime officials have dispatched anti-riot units to the city to prevent any possible anti-regime protests following today's collapse of the Metropol building.pic.twitter.com/PWYcQrI5Tp
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) May 23, 2022
Local Authorities Desperately Attempt to East Public Ire
The judiciary immediately detained tower owner Hossein Abdolbaghi and the project contractor following the incident, attempting to extinguish public ire. People mock the detention, saying, “The judiciary rescued them from outraged citizens, rather than holding them to account.”
Published documents indicated local officials ignored several warnings about the structure’s technical deficiencies. Abadan residents point out former Provincial Governor Gholamreza Shari’ati, who was ousted due to enormous financial scandals and corruption cases, including a $1.5 billion embezzlement case, in 2021.
Shari’ati also played a crucial role in murdering hundreds of innocent people during the bloody November of 2019, when hundreds of thousands of citizens flooded onto the streets, protesting gas price hikes. He is currently a lecturer at Ahvaz Jundishapur University of Medical Sciences.
On the other hand, Abadan Mayor Hossein Hamidpour attended the site as a media blitz. Instead, his attendance fueled citizens’ fury, leading them to attack him and force him to flee the area. Abdolbaghi had bribed municipal officials, including Hamidpour, to continue the project, which claimed dozens of innocent lives.
“I’ve been warning about the collapse of Abdolbaghi’s twin towers for a year now. Before the building was completed, I published the documents showing the foundations and columns were sinking,” tweeted Saeed Hafezi, a journalist.
“But as a result of Gholamreza Shari’ait’s corruption, the Free Zone Organization, and … another Cinema Rex took place. Dozens of my fellow citizens are left under the rubble. This morning Abadan’s Metropole tower collapsed!”
Meanwhile, Kourosh Khajavi, the Building Engineering Organization head in Khuzestan, revealed that his organization has issued around 5,000 technical notes to various municipalities about different construction projects.
“One month ago, the supervising engineer of the Metropole project sent alert notes about the structure’s conditions to the owner and relevant offices,” the semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Khajavi as saying. “We can merely declare conditions, warn, and remind technical faults, which would not be able to stop projects.”
The Metropole tower’s main structure was too loose as the central column, and load-bearing walls were slid and bent based on local reports. Citizens’ protests led Abadan Engineering Organization to visit the site last year.
“Hossein Abdolbaghi, the project owner and investor, declared his organization’s readiness to fix problems and deficits,” Abadan Engineering Organization announced in January 2021.
The disaster triggered political rivalries. “Constructors, the Engineering Organization, and the Abadan then-mayor are definitely the main culprits of the Metropole incident and should be held accountable,” said Mojtaba Mahfouzi, an MP from Abadan to the semiofficial SSN news agency.
Who Is Hossein Abdolbaghi, the Metropole Owner and Investor?
In a 2018 national congress held by the Ministry of Industry, Mine, and Trade, officials declared Hossein Abdolbaghi the best entrepreneur in the Arvand Free Trade Zone and one of the leading figures in the construction industry.
The Iranian regime Ministry of Industry, Mine, and Trade declared Hossein Abdolbaghi, the owner of #Metropole tower, the best entrepreneur in Arvand Free Trade Zone and one of the eternal figures in constructing industry in 2018.
— Iran News Update (@IranNewsUpdate1) May 24, 2022
Abdolbaghi also had deep ties with high-ranking officials, including former National Security Supreme Council secretary Ali Shamkhani, former Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezaei, and other influential figures.
#43YearsOfMisery, Collapse, Corruption, and Crimes#Khuzestan, SW #Iran—footage shows #IRGCTerrorist Heydar Abbaszadeh, blacklisted for #Mahshahr marsh crime in 2019, giving Metropole tower owner Hossein Abdolbaghi a plaque of appreciation for completing security forces' bases. https://t.co/hhAeDbokcc pic.twitter.com/rgjqw5dNob
— Iran News Update (@IranNewsUpdate1) May 24, 2022
In 2020, Abdolbaghi received a plaque of appreciation from the IRGC commander and State Security Forces chief in Khuzestan Heydar Abbaszadeh during the inauguration ceremony of Police Station Amir-Kabir 16. The IRGC commander praised him as a “charity donor to security forces.”
Notably, Abbaszadeh has played a significant role in killing defenseless protesters in Mahshahr. Under his command, security forces mowed down dozens of protesters who had taken refuge in marshes with heavy machine guns. “No one left the marshes alive,” eyewitnesses said. The U.S. later designated and sanctioned Abbaszadeh for the crime in 2020.
Mahshahr, southwest #Iran
Footage of the mullahs' vicious killing spree in this city.
Voice heard saying, "Viva the youth of Jarahi," referring to a district in Mahshahr. Reports indicate the IRGC killed 40 to 100 locals, and possibly more.#IranProtestspic.twitter.com/HzJu1EVVR4
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) December 3, 2019
However, locals say the state-backed mafia promoted Abdolbaghi to escape high-ranking officials. “Too many [influential] individuals backed him. They hide behind Hossein Abdolbaghi, preventing people from blaming the Shamkhanis, the Rezaeis, the Zamanis, the Forouzandehs, the corrupt family of Ka’bis, Friday Prayer Imams, and judiciary officials,” said a citizen.
Aside from Ali Shamkhani and Mohsen Rezaei, citizens have also mentioned Esmail Zamani, the Arvand Free Trade Zone head. In December 2020, Zamani was arrested for financial violations. However, after two months, he returned to his post, thanks to a vast bail provided by former provincial governor Shari’ati.
Another corrupt official is mullah Abbas Ka’bi, the Assembly of Experts member from Khuzestan. IRGC commander Mohammad Forouzandeh Behbahani is another corrupt official involved in the Metropole scandal. Forouzandeh was the IRGC chief of general staff (1987-89), the Armed Forces deputy commander-in-chief (1989-91), the Armed Forces deputy chief of staff (1991-93), Defense Minister (1993-97), the Mostaz’afan Foundation chief (1999-2014). He is also a member of the Expediency Council since 2006.
“Abdolbaghi took the best lands from the municipality and constructed buildings. He then offered homes and shops to municipal employees, who were in his gang,” said a citizen. “He built the Automobile Town of Abadan at the people’s lands; however, they threatened and silenced the landowners.”
“Abadan MPs, City Council members, Free Trade Zone investors, security forces are all in a mafia. Shamkhani and his nephews dominate the biggest mafia in Khuzestan. They have ruined the entire province… There were more than 200 people in the building; official statistics are utterly false because the provincial governor has ordered that the actual number of fatalities remain secret. I know that more than 50 people have died,” the citizen said.