Iranian band Yellow Dogs targeted in New York gun rampage by fellow musician

Band who fled persecution in Iran and moved to US were targeted in gun rampage by a disgruntled musician that ended with four people dead

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 9:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 3:47am


The brutal gun deaths of four Iranian musicians in New York has revealed a dramatic tale of persecution, defiance, ambition, envy - and ultimately, tragedy.

Three were shot dead by another musician, Ali Akbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, who then killed himself.

Two belonged to the Yellow Dogs, a band hailed as counter-cultural heroes in Iran who had risked the wrath of the authorities for their American-style sound and had fled to the US.

The other was an unfortunate fellow musician who lived in the same house in Brooklyn, but on the floor above.

Rafie climbed to the house across adjacent roofs. On one, investigators found an empty guitar case, which they believe was used to carry the assault rifle he used in his attack.

He found his way to a third-floor landing of the home. There, he fired once through a window into a living room, striking and killing Ali Eskandarian, 35, an Iranian-American songwriter who lived in the apartment above the Yellow Dogs.

Rafie then climbed inside, found Arash Farazmand, 28, the Yellow Dogs' drummer, and opened fire, killing him.

His brother, Soroush Farazmand, 27, the band's guitarist, was in his second-floor bedroom. Rafie shot him in the chest.

Shots also appeared to have been fired down a hallway and into a second-floor room, wounding Sasan Sadeghpourosko, 22, another resident, in the shoulder and elbow.

On the third floor was Pooya Hosseini, another Iranian musician from a band called the Free Keys, of which Rafie was a former member.

Rafie kicked in the door, and he and Hosseini struggled over the rifle. Several shots went off.

Unhurt, Hosseini fled, and Rafie headed to the roof, where he shot himself in the head. The other members of the Yellow Dogs - Koory Mirzaei, the bassist, and Siavash Karampour, the lead singer, known as Obash - were not in the house at the time.

The four bandmates had belonged to Tehran's "small but crazy" underground club scene, according to a State Department cable from 2009 which was later released by WikiLeaks.

Growing up together in Tehran, they had found a sound - part punk, part garage rock, part their own invention.

They practised their American-style rock in makeshift, soundproof studios and performed it in underground clubs and parking lots, despite the threat of arrest and detention.

Then, in 2009, they appeared in a documentary about Iran's underground music scene that garnered international attention.

The following year, they left for the US, finding their way to Brooklyn, where their house became a hub for fellow musicians and Iranians. A State Department official who helped the Yellow Dogs leave Iran said they originally applied for a short-term visa to play at South by Southwest, the music festival in Austin, Texas.

After arriving in Brooklyn, they applied for political asylum, citing their lack of freedom for political expression. In Iran, "they were feeling a lot of pressure, a lot of heat", the official said. They were granted asylum last year.

Meanwhile, gunman Ali Akbar Mohammadi Rafie, 29, had joined his fellow Iranians in Brooklyn only to struggle.

He left Iran as part of the Free Keys, who stayed at the Yellow Dogs' house when they arrived in New York in 2011. But Rafie's relations with both bands frayed and while they continued to live in Brooklyn, he moved to Queens.

There were accusations he stole money from the Free Keys, who forced him to leave the band last year, said John McCarthy, of the New York Police Department.

Rafie tried to rejoin the group, only to be rebuffed, McCarthy said. "He was upset that he was not in the band," he added.