Source Article Link: WSJ
How Iran Kills Abroad
The staggering parallels between the 1992 Berlin murders and the plot against the Saudi ambassador.
By Roya Hakakian
On the night of Sept. 17, 1992, at 10:45, two darkly clad men burst in on a private dinner at a Berlin restaurant and stood over a table around which eight of Iran’s leading opposition figures were seated. The taller of the two intruders shouted: “You sons of whores!”
Then he thrust his gloved hand into the sports bag that hung on his shoulder. In the dimly lit air, sparks of fire flashed at the intruder’s hip. Bullets, piercing the side of the bag, riddled the guests. After two rounds—26 bullets in all—the machine-gun barrage finally stopped.
The eldest of the eight guests at the table, Sadegh Sharafkandi, Iran’s most prominent Kurdish leader, was still in his chair, head slumped, blood tinting his white shirt. Another guest sat doubled over, breathing noisily, gasping for air, his face smashed into a mug of beer. The rest were strewn on the floor. Of the eight guests, four died that night at Berlin’s Mykonos restaurant.
The lead shooter, an Iranian named Abdulrahman Bani-Hashemi, also known as Sharif, flew to Turkey that night, got on a bus the next day and crossed the border into Iran. Two years earlier, he had attempted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Sweden. The Swedish authorities detained, then released, him. Three years before, he had assassinated an Iranian exile, a former pilot named Morad Talebi, in Switzerland.
Nearly two weeks after the Mykonos restaurant murders, German authorities arrested several men in connection with the attack. Only one of them was Iranian. The rest belonged to a ring of small-time Lebanese crooks with histories of petty theft, forgery and other such violations.
In May 1993, the German chief federal prosecutor submitted his indictment—in which Iran’s ministry of intelligence was implicated in the crime. Iran’s ambassador to Germany, indignant and righteous, gave a press conference in which he blamed the U.S. and Israel for causing the allegations against his country. In the meantime, Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, who never reached out in support of the victims’ families, sent repeated requests to German prison authorities asking that those arrested for the attack be treated well.
In late October, days before the start of the trial, Iran’s minister of intelligence, Ali Fallahian, made a secret visit to his counterpart in Bonn, Bernd Schmidtbauer. He offered, among other incentives, to facilitate the release of Ron Arad, the Israeli pilot who had gone missing in Lebanon, if only Mr. Schmidtbauer would prevent the trial from starting. Minutes of the meeting show that Mr. Schmidtbauer told the Iranian minister he had no control over Germany’s judiciary but could try to help Tehran manage the fallout from the inevitable trial.
The visit did not remain a secret for long, and the meeting turned out to be a black mark on Mr. Schmidtbauer’s long political career. As for Ali Fallahian, he was later declared wanted by the Interpol in connection with the Mykonos murders.
During the almost four years that the trial lasted, a top official of Iran’s ministry of intelligence defected and became one of the court’s key witnesses. He testified that there was a list of 500 individuals, “enemies of Islam” who Tehran had systematically pursued to annihilate. Several dozen on the list had already been killed by 1996. The decision for each killing was made in the meetings of a small group called “the Committee for Special Operations.”
On April 10, 1997, a trial that had placed 176 witnesses on the stand in 246 sessions and cost $3 million finally ended. Chief Judge Fritjhof Kubsch pointed to Iran’s ruling leadership as the architects of the crime: “The orders for the crime that took place on September 17th, 1992 in Berlin came from Iran’s Supreme Leader, president, foreign and intelligence ministers, and the chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who make up the Committee for Special Operations.”
The judgment caused every European Union member nation to withdraw its ambassador and cut off diplomatic ties with Iran for almost six months—an unprecedented international response.
Many have said in the last few days that the recently disclosed bomb plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington in a restaurant could not have been ordered by Iran’s regime—or, if so, only by rogue elements within it—because parts were planned incompetently, using non-Iranians. The staggering parallels between this and the Mykonos hit suggest otherwise.
Ms. Hakakian, recipient of a 2008 Guggenheim award in nonfiction, is the author of “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace,” about Iran’s extraterritorial terror campaign against Iranian exiles (Grove, 2011).