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German court finds Iran ordered killing in Berlin, recalls ambassador

April 10, 1997

BERLIN (AP) _ A German court ruled today that the assassination of an Iranian opposition figure in Berlin was ordered by the ``highest state levels″ in Tehran. Hours later, Germany recalled its ambassador to Iran and ordered four Iranian diplomats to leave the country.

The judges convicted two men of murder and two others of complicity in the September 1992 killing of Iranian-Kurdish leader Sadiq Sarafkindi and three colleagues.

Presiding Judge Frithjof Kubsch said the men had no personal motive, but were following orders. ``The Iranian political leadership is responsible,″ he said, adding that its goal was to eliminate political dissidents.

The foreign ministry statement that announced the recall of Horst Baechmann as well as the deportations said the Iranian ambassador in Bonn, Hossein Moussavian, had been summoned to explain ``the situation.″

Iran also recalled its ambassador to Bonn for consultations, Iranian television reported.

The trial had drawn international attention because the court was considering charges that Iranian leaders directed the killings of dissidents abroad.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns called the German verdict courageous. The Clinton administration has been trying to isolate Iran on grounds it sponsored such acts of terror, which Tehran has angrily denied.

Germany and other European Union countries have pursued a policy of ``critical dialogue″ with Tehran the past 4 1/2 years, raising issues of terrorism and human rights while continuing relations and profitable trade.

After today’s verdict and recall, however, the Foreign Ministry said Germany will ``not participate for the foreseeable future″ in the EU policy of maintaining close ties with Iran.

The government reacted with ``consternation″ to the verdict, which indicated ``a flagrant breach of international law″ by Iran, the ministry statement said.

Officials in Germany, Iran’s biggest Western trade partner, had said earlier that the ``critical dialogue″ policy would be reviewed if the court implicated Iranian leaders in the killings.

Burns said the German ruling confirmed a long-held U.S. view that terrorism is directed from Tehran. He said German authorities should draw ``their own conclusions″ and that the United States would take up the verdict with other European governments as well.

Prosecutors contended that Iran’s powerful spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani personally ordered the killings. The allegations, first made last fall, set off days of anti-German protests in Tehran.

Kubsch said the order for the killing was given by a special revolutionary committee that represented Iran’s top political and religious leaders. He did not specifically name them.

``It is proven that there was an official liquidation order,″ he said.

About 600 Iranian dissidents outside the courtroom cheered and danced when they heard the verdict. They called for an end to trade with Iran, carrying signs such as: ``Stop the murderous regime in 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 was acquitted.

Tehran has denied any involvement in the killings and accused the Germans of seeking to politicize a criminal case.

In reading the three-judge panel’s findings, Kubsch noted that Iran’s leaders were not on trial and said the court did not want to ``bend to the pressure of public opinion that was seeking a condemnation of Iran.″

German prosecutors initially called the murder a contract killing by the Iranian spy agency. Darabi was known to German authorities as a secret agent with connections to the Iranian consulate in Berlin.

Bernd Schmidbauer, Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s intelligence adviser, testified that Iran’s intelligence chief sought to block the trial during a 1993 visit to Bonn. Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant last year for him on charges he ordered the assassinations.

The trial was winding down last summer when former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr was called as a witness. He testified that Iranian leaders Khamenei and Rafsanjani personally ordered the murders.

Update hourly