In terms of seismically radiated energy or moment release, the earthquake of 20 January 1990 in the Manjil Basin-Alborz Mountain region of Iran is the second largest strike-slip earthquake to have occurred in an intracontinental setting in the past decade. It caused enormous loss of life and the virtual destruction of several cities. Despite a very large meizoseismal area, the identification of the causative faults has been hampered by the lack of reliable earthquake locations and conflicting field reports of surface displacement. Using broadband data from global networks of digitally recording seismographs, we analyse broadband seismic waveforms to derive characteristics of the rupture process. Complexities in waveforms generated by the earthquake indicate that the main shock consisted of a tiny precursory subevent followed in the next 20 seconds by a series of four major subevents with depths ranging from 10 to 15 km. The focal mechanisms of the major subevents, which are predominantly strike-slip, have a common nodal plane striking about 285??-295??. Based on the coincidence of this strike with the dominant tectonic fabric of the region we presume that the EW striking planes are the fault planes. The first major subevent nucleated slightly south of the initial precursor. The second subevent occurred northwest of the initial precursor. The last two subevents moved progressively southeastward of the first subevent in a direction collinear with the predominant strike of the fault planes. The offsets in the relative locations and the temporal delays of the rupture subevents indicate heterogeneous distribution of fracture strength and the involvement of multiple faults. The spatial distribution of teleseismic aftershocks, which at first appears uncorrelated with meizoseismal contours, can be decomposed into stages. The initial activity, being within and on the periphery of the rupture zone, correlates in shape and length with meizoseismal lines. In the second stage of activity the aftershock zone expands and appears to cluster about the geomorphic and geologic features several tens of kilometres from the rupture zone. The activity is interpreted as a regional response to quasistatic stress migration along zones of tectonic weakness. The radiated energy of the main shock and the estimate of seismic moment yields an apparent stress of 20 bars. High apparent stress may be typical of strike slip earthquakes occurring in intracontinental environments undergoing continental collision.