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Riveting account of a multiple murder and trial that led to a paradigm shift in Europe's relations with post-revolutionary Iran.
On September 17, 1992, heavily armed assassins burst into a restaurant in a quiet immigrant enclave in Berlin, rudely interrupting a dinner honoring Sadegh Sharafkandi, a leader of a dissident Iranian-Kurdish political organization. Opening fire with automatic weapons and following with a series of single shots, they murdered Sharafkandi and three other Iranian and Kurdish activists. Although the chief assassin was never caught, three of his accomplices, one Iranian and two Lebanese men with connections to Hezbollah, were quickly taken into custody. The ensuing five-year trial, where the crimes of the Stasi were tried after Germany's reunification, were presided over by the same meticulously fair Judge Frithjof Kubsch who had overseen the sensitive Stasi trials. Hakakian (Journey from the Land of No:A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran, 2004) deploys all of her talents as a former producer at60 Minutesand a poet in her native Farsi to tell the human and political story behind the news. She closely follows the surviving family and friends of victim Noori Dekhordi, who immediately suspected that the orders for the assassinations came directly from the Iranian regime's top officials. Hakakian's novelistic narrative details the intrigues in the Iranian diaspora as the prosecution unearthed threads leading from Tehran to hundreds of murders and a plot to kill hundreds more around Europe in the 1980s and '90s. These findings caught the German government between Tehran's vengeful mullahs, whose interests it had represented in Europe in exchange for contracts with German businesses like Siemens, and the hundreds of thousands of Iranian dissidents who had settled in Germany since the revolution. Even knowing that relations between Iran and Europe would never be the same won't prepare the reader for the surprising—even shocking—twists the trial took.
A nonfiction political thriller of a very high order.
After nearly an hour prowling Prager Street, surveying the restaurant in its cul-de-sac, two hulking, bearded figures rolled their collars up to their eyes and burst inside. A third man stood guard at the entrance. It was 10:47 PM.
They darted through the main dining hall, past a lonely customer nursing a last drink. Through an archway, they entered the back room, where a party of eight sat around a rectangular table. The taller of the two intruders stationed himself behind one of the diners, facing the eldest among them --a bald, bespectacled man in a gray suit who was addressing everyone. No one was yet aware of their arrival. The speaker, suddenly meeting the intruder’s dark gaze upon himself, turned pale and froze in mid-speech. Another guest asked what was wrong with him. The answer came from the intruder:
“You sons of whores!”
He thrust his gloved hand into the sports bag that hung on his shoulder. Then, a click! .
A voice from the table shouted: “Comrades, it’s an assassi
The trail of his call faded in the roaring sound that followed. In the dimly-lit air, sparks of fire flashed at the intruder’s hip. Bullets, piercing the side of the bag, bombarded the guests. The shell casings rang on the floor --the men, collapsing, their chairs, falling, the wall behind them, cracking with each bullet. Blood sprayed what remained of a dinner of meat and rice, tracing the empty china like remnants of some crimson garnish, dotting the uneaten bread in their straw baskets, beading the petals of the plastic flowers in their stubby vases. One of the wounded men clutched the tablecloth as he fell, dragging it with him spilling the bottles. The print of his bleeding hand stained one end of the white fabric. Beer and water streaked the cloth and dampened the neon-blue layer beneath.
After two barrages --twenty six bullets-- the shooter paused to inspect the scene. The air was thick with the smell of gunpowder. Of the eight guests, everyone had stooped or fallen, except one. The elder guest was still in his chair, neck slumped on his shoulder, blood tinting his white shirt, blending with the busy pattern of his tie. Another victim was doubled over, breathing noisily, gasping for air, his face was smashed into a mug of beer. The golden liquid was slowly darkening.
The second shooter walked up to the table, tucked his bare hand under his belt, and drew out a gun. No one stirred. He aimed at the elder man, and fired three more bullets into his head. Then he turned to one of the bodies on the floor, a young, mustached man dressed in what, until moments before, had been a crisp white shirt. Pointing his gun at the back of the man’s head, he fired a single shot. Then he turned to the next body and aimed once more. But before he pulled the trigger, his accomplice motioned him to leave.
They bolted out of the restaurant. Their guard joined them at the door. At the intersection across the cul-de-sac, a sky-blue BMW was idling. They ran toward the car. The lead shooter reached it first. He grabbed the handles and swung both front and back passenger doors open. As he jammed himself beside the driver, he threw the bag behind him. The other two shoved themselves in the backseat, where a fourth man sat. A fifth man, their driver, stomped on the accelerator, nearly running over a pedestrian as he took off. Across the intersection, the engine of a black Mercedes roared, and it, too, took off and swerved onto a side street.
The breeze blew gently. A light drizzle fell softly. Suddenly, everything was as it had been on so many nights before. But lights had come on in the few windows overlooking the restaurant. A handful of neighbors had awakened. On the fourth floor balcony of the building next to the restaurant, a young woman clutched the railing, leaning downward. Her auburn hair flowed over the white uniform, her skin still warm from the bike ride home. She peered intently at the sidewalk below, looking for the source of the blast that had shaken the floor of her living room. She was a curious bystander then, soon a witness, one of several hundred, to detail her account of the tremor beneath her feet, the tremor that would ripple through and shake Germany, and all of Europe in the months to come.
Posted September 19, 2011
"Assassins" reads like a literary thriller stretching from Berlin to Tehran to Beirut, a true page-turner. It's a fantastic work of historical non-fiction written with a poet's hand. All too obvious that the author, nay detective, left no stone unturned when conducting her research.
An absolute must read when looking to make sense of current events - be it the Green Movement of 2009 in Iran or the current Arab Spring.
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Posted January 20, 2013
Posted January 5, 2012
A well written nonfiction book about an assassination of Iranian opposition party exiles in Germany. Uplifting that Europe finally served the killers justice rather than putting financial and economic interests above it. Still very pertinent as regards today's Iranian leaders.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2011
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Posted January 15, 2013
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Posted January 29, 2012
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