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Holy leaders convicted in German court

German court rules Iranian leaders ordered Berlin slayings Countries expel each other's diplomats.

April 10, 1997

BERLIN (CNN) -- A German court's finding that top Iranian officials ordered the 1992 murders of four Kurdish dissidents triggered a diplomatic tit-for-tat Thursday in which the two countries expelled each other's diplomats.

German 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 in a Berlin restaurant.

The court found that the assassinations were ordered by the "highest state levels" in Iran.

CNN's Jackie Shymanski reports:

The ruling shook German-Iranian relations. Germany announced it was recalling its ambassador from Tehran and expelling four Iranian diplomats.

The Iranian government, which denies having any role in the slayings, retaliated by pulling its ambassador from Bonn. The Iranian news agency IRNA later announced that four German diplomats would be ordered out of Iran.

Europeans rethinking Iranian policy

European Union officials met in Brussels to discuss recalling their ambassadors and possibly ending their two-track policy of doing business with Iran while discussing issues of terrorism and human rights -- a policy opposed by the United States.

The German Foreign Ministry announced that its policy of "critical dialogue" with Iran would be suspended for the foreseeable future. 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.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns hailed the court's verdict as proof that Iran is a terrorist state. He called on European governments to "choke off trade with Iran."

"The 'critical dialogue' has not succeeded in moderating Iran's behaviour," Burns said. Judges said assassins were following orders

The Berlin 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 men, Youssef Amin and Mohamed Atris, were convicted of being accessories to murder. Amin was given 11 years in prison, and Atris got five years and three months.

The fifth defendant, Atallah Ayad, also Lebanese, was acquitted. Presiding Judge Frithjof Kubsch said the four men found guilty of the murders had no personal motive but were instead 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 has issued an arrest warrant for Iran's minister of intelligence in connection with the crime.

Iranian dissidents cheer

In the wake of the verdict, German fears of a terrorist attack or other Iranian retribution were clear. 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.

Leaders of the Iranian opposition said they still wanted a better guarantee that Germany would drop its "critical dialogue" policy.

"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 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."