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German court implicates Iran leaders in '92 killings

April 10, 1997
Web posted at: 10:25 a.m. EDT (1425 GMT)

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BERLIN (CNN) -- In a ruling expected to strain Germany's diplomatic relations with Iran, a German court Thursday convicted four men in the 1992 murders of dissident Iranian-Kurdish leaders in a Berlin restaurant and found that the killings were ordered by the "highest state levels" in Iran's capital.

icon (128K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound) - CNN's Jackie Shymanski reports:

The judges convicted two men of murder and two others of being accessories to murder in the September 17, 1992, deaths of Iranian-Kurdish leader Sadiq Sarafkindi and three of his colleagues.


Presiding Judge Frithjof Kubsch said the men had no personal motive but were following orders. Without naming names, Kubsch said the gangland-style murders had been ordered by Iran's Committee for Special Operations, to which Iran's president and spiritual leader belonged.

Prosecutors had contended that Iran's powerful spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani had personally ordered the killings.

Germany said it was expelling four Iranian diplomatic staff. "The participation of Iranian state agencies, as found in the court verdict, represents a flagrant violation of international law," the German foreign ministry said in a statement.

Iranian speaker calls verdict 'political'

The verdict is sure to anger Iran's leadership, which has in the past denied any responsibility for the assassination.

Speaker of the Iranian parliament Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri Thursday dismissed the verdict as "political." He said the accusations were untrue and demanded evidence.

"We have asked the German leadership many times if there is any evidence and if so to present it to us," Nouri said. "But until now they haven't. The trial had a political tinge."

The ruling is expected to sour relations between the two countries. Germany is Iran's biggest Western trading partner, with between $1 billion and $2 billion worth of investments in Iran; about 500 German citizens live in Iran.

Until now, trade has encouraged the German government to hold what it calls a "critical dialogue" with Iran, raising issues of terrorism and human rights while continuing to do business. Germany has maintained this policy despite criticism from the United States, which has pursued an isolationist policy with Iran.

The judges found Kazem Darabi, an Iranian who worked as a grocer in Berlin, and a Lebanese man, Abbas Rhayel, guilty of murder and sentenced them to life in prison.

Two other Lebanese, Youssef Amin and Mohamed Atris, were convicted of being accessories to murder. Amin was given 11 years and Atris five years and three months.

The fifth defendant, Atallah Ayad, also Lebanese, was acquitted.

Iran, Germany recall ambassadors

Both Germany and Iran announced they were recalling their respective ambassadors following the verdict.

The Iranian foreign ministry said it had recalled its ambassador to Germany for "certain consultations," Iranian state television said.

German officials were braced for post-trial consequences ranging from a diplomatic row to a terrorist attacks against German targets at home and abroad.In preparation for possible retributions, security around the Berlin courtroom was tightened.

The German government has also warned its citizens against traveling to Iran unless absolutely necessary, and it advised all German citizens in Iran to stay in close contact with the German embassy in Tehran.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Iranian dissidents, who arrived early Thursday morning for the trial's outcome, danced euphorically when the verdict was read. Carrying huge banners, they celebrated, cheered, and played music in the streets.

Pro and con on 'critical dialogue' policy

Leaders of the Iranian opposition said they still wanted a better guarantee that Germany would review its critical dialogue policy and drop it, following the lead of the United States and other Western governments in cutting off contact with a regime that sponsors state terrorism.

"There is now absolutely no justification for the continuation of the 'critical dialogue' policy and for the appeasement of this regime," said Massoud Radjavi, chairman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

But one prominent Bonn politician, Free Democrat deputy Juergen Moellemann, said Germany should now intensify its controversial "critical dialogue" with Tehran rather than give it up.

"A Berlin judge cannot decide how we organize our relations with countries around the world," he said. "If there are problems, one should actually intensify the dialogue."

Germany had already issued an arrest warrant for Iran's minister of intelligence in connection with the crime.

Correspondent Jackie Shymanski contributed to this report.


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