The two business executives were driving in a luxury sedan in an upscale district of Istanbul when another vehicle blocked their path, allowing the gunmen to spray Karimian’s car with bullets, according to Turkish media reports. A car that police suspect belonged to the assailants was found torched outside the city.
Turkish media outlets said police are investigating, but there was no official statement on Karimian’s death. The 45-year-old businessman, who was also a British national, was reported dead at the scene. His business partner died at the hospital, reports said.
It was a brazen assault in a major cosmopolitan city and raised questions about both the safety of Iranian news professionals abroad and law and order in Turkey’s largest metropolis.
Turkey and Iran are neighbors and major trade partners, but relations have recently been strained. The two are regional rivals and have backed opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.
Reporters Without Borders, a press freedom watchdog, ranks Iran as one of the worst oppressors of journalists in the world. The motive behind the killings, however, remains unclear.
Karimian’s media empire included at least 20 satellite channels, broadcasting in Farsi, Arabic and Azeri. The group had offices in London, Istanbul and Dubai, and it often dubbed foreign, including Western, programs in Farsi to be broadcast in Iran.
Those efforts put Karimian in authorities’ crosshairs, and officials frequently criticized the programs as having a corrupting influence. Last year, a court in the Iranian capital, Tehran, sentenced Karimian to six years in absentia for “spreading propaganda.”
The BBC reported that Karimian's family said that the Iranian government had threatened him in recent months and that he had planned to leave Istanbul for London.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an antigovernment group linked to the opposition Mujahideen-e Khalq, or People’s Mujahideen of Iran, released a statement Sunday condemning the attack, which it blamed on the government.
Karimian had long been the target of propaganda and smears by media outlets linked to Iranian security services, the statement said.