December 11, 2007 / 12:23 AM / 11 years ago

Germany frees killers early despite Israeli protest

BERLIN, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Germany has granted early release to two men given life prison sentences for the 1992 assassination of a group of dissident Kurdish leaders despite protests from Israel, German officials said on Monday.

The office of Germany’s Chief Federal Prosecutor Monika Harms decided in October there was no legal reason to delay the release of Iranian Kazem Darabi and his Lebanese accomplice, Abbas Rhayel.

German government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters both men had been released and were being flown out of the country.

Israeli authorities have long believed Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah movement could have information on missing Israeli pilot Ron Arad’s fate and hoped Darabi could help in solving the case, Israeli and German media have reported.

The government of Israel and the family of Arad, who went missing over Lebanon in 1986, had asked German Chancellor Merkel to delay the release of the two men. Germany’s Foreign Ministry has denied any deal was made with Iran that led to the release of Darabi and Rhayel.

Darabi and Rhayel were convicted in 1997 for killing the four Kurds after having spent five years in investigative custody before and during the trial. The court said at the time they would spend a quarter of a century in jail.

Prosecutors in the long trial infuriated Tehran and strained bilateral relations by saying Iran’s supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had ordered the killings and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had approved them.

The Islamic Republic has always denied responsibility for the killings.

Earlier this year German media reported Tehran had conditioned the release of a German man imprisoned for over a year for fishing in Iranian waters on Darabi’s release. Tehran released the German fisherman in March. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Michael Winfrey)

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