By Danial Haghighi
Officers encountered them first in the security cameras, according to the inspectors and detectives that were assigned to the case. The surveillance cameras were positioned at the building entrance. The recorded footage showed images of eleven tall, wide shouldered men calmly entering the complex. Their faces appeared relaxed, confident and certain as they entered one of the apartments. The guests recall that the men were all armed carrying Beretta 9 millimeter band guns and Colt revolvers on their waists. The men had beard faces and were wearing loose white shirts that were untucked and hanging on their trousers. Most of them were also wearing the Ageeq ring usually worn by Islamic religious scholars. Judging by their looks, attitude and behavior, the first thing that would come to mind was that they belonged to Basij.
Basij was an independent religious division that revolved around confronting people in their personal manners. For one thing, throwing parties as this was against Islamic rules of the country.
The footages recorded the time of the intrusion to be 21:07 pm year 2003. The building they entered, was a four story modern exterior compound that included four residential units. Located in Iran Zamin Street, the apartments had windows facing the beautiful Golestan shopping center. The residence showcases a stunning hipped roof and the main gate was made out of glass blocks.
Shahrake Gharb (the West Town) or Hollow Town, as written on the streets sign boards, is a high-end district in north Tehran. It is home to the rich class and was designed pre-revolution, by American architects. It consists of seven residential phases for the American expats. Today however, this part of the city, with its fancy gardens and retreats, is a meeting place for the expense of dogs owners. The Manitoba are built featuring eagles and deer head carvings on their façade. The whole town was very sought after. There is also a myth that Kharazm Street, one of the most famous streets of Shahrake Gharb, is the most beautiful street in Tehran.
This part of the city can get quite crowded during both day and afternoons. It usually becomes very quiet in the evenings, however. Iran Zamin is Shahrake Gharb’s longest street, which is part of the phase one of the community. It is known for its luxurious shopping centers. The whole street is curved around phase one, isolating it like an island from the rest of the neighborhood, making it a gathering place and a shopping destination for the wealthiest youth of Tehran.
The young crowd who socialize cheer look quite different than the rest of their age group. Boys dress themselves as Rappers and exchange small packages of weed in the corners in public parkings and private hospitals. The girls’ lips and nails are as bruised color as the night and they compete almost fairly with their boyfriends in drug consumption.
Young women remove their hair-covering scarves while driving their four wheel cars. Looking at it from a comprehensive cognitive point of view, this part of the city can be considered as a heterotopia.
No surprise that such behavioral patterns result in the confrontation of the police, making all kinds of headline news.
That night, eleven men with their radios, headphones, handcuffs, Colts and Beretta pistols, showed up at the party held on the second floor apartment, shouting at the guests.
“What is going on here? Hu?”
“You think you threw yourself a party, mama’s boy?”
They used all techniques to scare all the fourteen guests. They separated men from women. They sniffed the drinks to detect alcohol, they even drank up a glass or two, followed by dropping some olives or pickles in their mouths.
At this point, the anxious host approached them and with his shaking hands, offered a handful of travelers cheques, not knowing just how quickly things were about to turn ugly. The armed men frightened the thirty year old who had applied an exaggerated amount of hair gel to keep his hair pointed upwards and wore a bitter men’s cologne. He decided to sit helplessly and watch the events unfolding in front of his terrified eyes. He watched as, in a blink of an eye, his fun night turned to his worst nightmare.
Those wide shouldered muscular men, with their rough voices and aggressive gestures, started questioning the young host taking his identification card and other details about his contact number , address, work position, etc. then they started to tie up all the guests’ hands and feet with white twisted ropes including the host’.
They then start looking around the house. This apartment is new, probably handed over not more than two years back. They searched for valuable items in the house, and within moments collected all the valuables such as carpets both the ones on the floor as well as the wall carpet frames, electronics, kitchen appliances, cash, currencies, gold and jewelry even everyone’s cell phones. They sabotaged the house in less than thirty minutes and left.
A few days later, in a similar manner, another group of armed burglars who resembled those eleven men in fact, attempted yet another robbery. This time, however, they broke into a private villa in Faramarz Street, owned by an old couple. The mansion was designed in vintage exterior peach-colored walls with golden flowers on the window fences. This time, the robbery was more tragic. As they tied up the couple with the ropes while warning them not to cry for help, the seventy year old husband suffered a heart attack and died instantly. The thieves continued with the robbery and stripped the house of all its valuables.
The two terrifying incidents, along with a few similar cases in different parts of the city, all pointed to the sudden emergence of a new group of criminals who unlike the public expectations, attack the residential houses while the owners are present in the house.
There is a public scare in the city, putting pressure on the police headquarters and the high ranked officers and detectives. The law enforcement unit of Tehran, NAJA, the uniformed police force in Iran, set out inspection teams specialized in crimes and armed robbery, to further investigate the case. The reporters and the media name the robbers, The Forty Thieves of Baghdad.
Considering the Robbery method, their daring lack of concern, and their appearance, the police’ first assumption was that these individuals belonged to a corrupt formal or casual organization acting on impulse.
Moalem Square is located in Yaftabad district. Three men break into a warehouse which happens to be just on the opposite side of the local revolutionary guards’ check point. Unlike Shahrake Gharb, Yaftabad is a district in the south of Tehran representing a working class neighborhood.
Historically, Yaftabad consisted of a few random small villages occupied by farmers and shepherds.
The lands were owned by one ruler addressed to as “khan” and the villagers were his followers.
During Pahlavi reign however; majority of drug addicts, outlaws and the poor found refuge there and gradually changed the appearance of this area.
After the death of the khan, his heir lost possession of a few pieces of lands though they still owned more than two third of the lands. Having been educated in Europe, the family and heir of the khan realized the severity of the situation and decided to bring about some change. The sons of the khan established public institutions such as rehabilitation centers for people suffering from drug addiction, public parks, hospitals and public schools.
The khan’s son in law, Haj Alinaghi Ghiyasi, took possession of about a third of this wealth. He also was one of the major industrial players in the market and owned a few factories including Pars Oil Company. Such spirit had led him to follow the same footsteps as the rest of the family and build hospitals and wood factories in his lands.
Gradually the improvements were visible and the proximity to Tehran city center resulted in a rise in the number of manufacturing and other processing factories in Yaftabad, and consequently new jobs for the rehabilitated drug addicts.
After the major political coup, the trend continues with Americanizing the industry. As a result, more factories, establishments and industrial developments appeared in the area. However after the 1979 revolution, most of the factory owners were forced to flee the country and their businesses and wealth were confiscated by the authorities. The workers were mainly retired or got laid off. The changes resulted in a gradual size reduction of the industry and eventually only smaller sized factories remain. These small factories somehow shifted their business to meet the new demands of the market. In the following years, people would come to know Yaftabad as the Ultimate destination for furniture factories and show rooms.
The thieves enter a large furniture showroom and steal a sofa set and a very expensive dining table with detailed carvings that was custom designed for a wealthy businessman.
The police decided to study the previous criminal records of similar burglars or imposters that took advantage of Basij organization’s nature of confronting residents at their homes. The investigation fails to produce any result to prove or deny the presumption. Public pressure increases and reports of occurring robberies of the same nature increases. Forensics reports on finger prints and face detection are not helpful either. It appears as if, the thieves change the face each robbery, each time, their number and group are different and can only be linked by their tactic.
The robberies start to expand outside the city of Tehran and a few cases are reported in Karaj, Varamin and Shahriyar.
The most recent incident is a huge heist that happens in Azimiye area in Karaj. The intruders target a big mansion that is hosting a wedding event with more than fifty guests. Once again, they tie up all the guests and strip them off of all their belongings as well as that of the house.
Azimiye otherwise known as Resalat town is a tourist destination admired for its upscale residential units as well as its fair weather. Located just under the Alborz Mountains, visitors enjoy the fresh and clean climate and peaceful environment.
The geometry of the district showcases a round boulevard that embodies divided rectangular shaped plots meeting a big square called Baharestan. Lots of greeneries, outdoor sport facilities combined with the clean air, make it an ideal neighborhood.
Once again the assumption of the outlaws being imposters seems more realistic since the robbery takes place in a street that is very close to the police station and the department of justice. However, no clues that may lead to a discovery are found.
21 September 2004, around 10 pm in the evening, Shoosh square:
Two police officers are on their way back from an assignment. While waiting at a red light, they detect a white Peykan( Iranian made car) next to them and the driver seems to become very anxious at their presence.
The most prominent feature of Shoosh square is the movement of the passengers with their big hand luggages and trolleys heading towards the train station. You can see almost anyone, Arabs wearing sandals, dark skinned fishermen, depressed college students, groups of gypsy women with their big plastic bags of cheap commodities to trade, Indian men wearing dastar on their heads, big mustached Pakistanis, old men earring scarves…
This place is sleepless. There is always lots of light, warmth, noise and fluctuating moods. In addition, Shoosh is a witness to police chasing homeless addicts moving around in the station. This square was historically the biggest fruit and vegetable market of the city.
The police officers instantly realize that the driver is hiding something. Looking across the car windows, the driver’s face starts changing color and sweat drops appear on his forehead.
But before the officers can decide on a course of action, the driver passes the red light and runs away. It takes a 10 minute exciting car-chase till the police can finally stop the driver in Shapoor Street and arrest him. The car inspection results in the discovery of six handguns three of which were beretta colts, 2 revolver 32 and finally a cache.
The driver insists that he was not aware of the weapons in the car, nevertheless, the officers transfer him to Tehran police headquarters.
Vahdate Islami, previously known as Shapour, is a region that was home to Takhti, the wrestling legend, and Ahmed Kasravi*. Is it the only place that you can still find pet bird types like parrots and nightingale? If you look up to the sky and you are lucky enough, you can catch a group of parrots passing through the trees. You can also visit the city park and watch flamingos kept in cages along with domestic birds such as roosters and chickens. Crows are the only birds you can find in the other parts of the town. Recently there are some seagulls emigrating from Russia in the winter seasons.
At 11:00 pm night, the famous detective, Colonel Hosseinizad arrives at Tehran police station.
The police station that was established in 1326 consists of 8 divisions. In 1991, it became the subcategory of NAJA crime discovery section and so became known as criminal investigation deputy. It includes three departments; the department of criminal violation defense, cybercrime defense and economic and financial crime defense.
The detective is a wide-shouldered man in his forties. He is of medium height, 5.6 feet tall and has slicked back his fair hair. Like always, his presence brings peace and a sense of relief to the rest of his coworkers especially the young detectives who call him by his first name, Fereidoon, or simply “brother”.
He has been briefed about the case not long after the arrest and he requests a more thorough detection of the confiscated weapons and the car. With the second search of the car, the police find more bullets and a few meters of white rope. The colonel sends the rope to be tested for a match with the discovered ropes at the incidents. The positive match brings about the hypothesis of the link between the infamous robberies and the arrested young man.
The police then studies the guns, their estimated duration of use based on the bullets, and condition of the weapons. The conclusion is that the weapons have been used not long ago. Reviewing the driver’s file, the detective realizes that they are not dealing with a typical man. Born in 1979 in Ilam, Ardalan Fasih was carrying an identity card associated with victims of the war. He has lost both his parents in bombings during the Iran-Iraq war. Photos in his identification cards depict him wearing a beard at all times during his life. Ardalan’s face appears handsome and innocent, despite being described as “the chubby fellow” by the rest of the officers and detectives. The detective meets Ardalan in one of the interrogation rooms. He is a man just about 5.5 tall and almost twenty kilograms overweight. However, he has a calm and childish face with light brown eyes and a long beard that make him look more his age.
“So you have lost your parents during the war, Mr Ardalan. Correct?” The truth is that the detective feels reluctant to treat the guy harshly based on his tragic background. Staring at a focal point on the wall, Ardalan confirms the statement.
“Yes, must have been the first year of the war maybe the second.”
“Who raised you? “
“I raised myself.”
“It seems that you are a man of morals.”
“Why did you keep those weapons in your car Ardalan?”
“Those are not mine, a friend of mine had borrowed my car for the last two days, and they could be his.”
“Who is your friend?”
“Nobody you know.”
“I am aware of that, so give us his details.”
“It’s really not relevant who he is.”
“Where is he now? We need his details to bring him in.”
“I cannot provide that information.”
“It seems that you are not aware just how many crimes have been committed using exactly those weapons we found in your car.”
The Colonel detects signs of stress and discomfort in Ardalan’s face. So he decides to put more pressure on him and calls a young and athletic officer into the room.
“I need you to bring all the items we found in the car that belong to this gentleman, immediately. “
“Right away sir.”
The officer brings the guns, bullets and the twisted white rope and puts them all on the table.
The detective sits in a chair in front of Ardalan and examined the twisted rope whispering to himself “so many people strangled using this” then he takes a pair of the cubs at Ardalan’s eye level and continues “how many innocent lives were taken away by these.”
It’s obvious that Ardalan is losing his grip, his face is becoming paler and anxious and seconds pass. The detective is still uncertain whether Ardalan has a connection with the crimes so he continues “are you aware just how many crimes you friend has committed using these murder weapons?”
Ardalan replies “I have no idea.”
“You have no idea. Look son, I respect you. You have lost your family in the war. I fought in the war myself and my best friends were also killed in the war. Your parents’ lives were the expense you paid for this country and now I need you to help us protect our country’s safety, do you understand my point?”
The detective stops talking which is followed by an awkward silence in the room. He places the colts back on the table which makes a tick sound.
As the silence breaks, Ardalan answers “I know but I don’t have any information, like I said, I lent the car to him two days ago.”
The detective takes a deep breath and says, pointing at the 9 millimeter Beretta “look son, do you know how many people were killed with this gun of yours just this week?”
Ardalan’s face becomes pale and tries to hide his eyes from the detective: “this is impossible. “
Ardalan’s first mistake ensures the detective that he is related to the robberies. So he asks “and how would you know that it is impossible?”
“I just bought these weapons for sale a few days ago” Ardalan is obviously stressed at this point.
“So you admit that they are your weapons.”“They are mine.”
“For sale, from where did you get them?”
“Where is Kamyaran?” Asks the young officer standing behind the detective.
The detective decides to use a simple interrogation technique.
“And how do you expect me to believe you after all those lies? Look son, don’t try to be smart with me. We have had all these weapons tested for match and we know that they have been used last week for one of the robberies. I could now have you hanged upside down till you admit…”
“You have no proof”, Ardalan jumps in his sentence trembling.
“You don’t have any proof against me.”
“Look son, I don’t want to use one of those methods that I am sure you are aware of to get you to talk to me “
“Do whatever you want, I have nothing to say and you have nothing against me “
“Yes sir” he marches in and stumps his feet firmly.
“Bring a glass of water for Ardalan.”
“Right away sir” he exits the room and shortly comes back with the water and studs his feet again.
“My son, it’s better if you talk to me, I have so much respect for you, and people like you consider this country as their own. Do you consider this country your own?” Says the detective with a softer tone, handing the water to Ardalan.
“I don’t know anything.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Says the detective, almost shouting now. “What is your connection to the criminals who have been breaking into all these houses and stealing using these weapons and ropes?”
“You don’t have any evidence.”
“So you do know what I am talking about, don’t deny it.”
Ardalan shivers and repeats:
“You have no proof.”
“What do you mean, we have all this evidence.”
“My friend did the robberies, you don’t have anything to prove that I did it.”
“So you are aware of the robberies. “
“No I don’t know anything” his hands and lips are shaking severely.”
“Alright, calm down”, says the detective.
It’s passed 2 in the morning and everybody is overwhelmed and exhausted and the twenty five year old is too stressed and scared to continue with the interrogation.
If the detectives listened more carefully, they could hear the young man’s heart beating. Colonel Hosseinizad’s warm voice breaks the silence “ok, we leave you alone so you could relax and think and make up your mind. But you should know Ardalan, the next time I see you, I won’t be so nice. So think and decide if you want to cooperate or not”
Colonel then signs for the other detective, Jafari, and they both leave, closing the partition door behind them.
Ardalan again whispers to himself “you don’t have any proof “
The detective goes to his office and closes the door. He sits behind his desk and prays that nothing bad happens for the people of town till the morning. He then corrects that prayer and prays that nothing bad ever happens to the people of his city. He knows that this is not a logical request but he still wants to ask for big favors from his God.
He lowers the radio, sits back to his chair and closes his eyes. However, his tests come to a halt as the prayer adhan* is heard from his radio. He goes to the adulation room and washes up for prayer. Along with the rest of the detectives and police officers, they perform the morning-namaz followed by some chit-chat about last night’s events.
He mentions to his peers about his uncertainty of what will happen with Ardalan.
It’s now morning outside. The crows’ sound fills the air and the employees are starting to come in as officer Moazami informs the detective that Ardalan has requested to speak with him in private. As soon as the detective enters a cozy room at the end of a long corridor, assigned for the private talk with Ardalan, he finds the twenty five year old to be very calm and collected with no sign of stress from last night.
All that stress and anxiety is replaced with a sense of courage and self-confidence
Ardalan is laid back in his seat, he has left the upper button of his shirt open and his eyes have the look of someone who has been in a deep sleep for a very long time.
The detective is holding two cups of tea in his hands, he gently puts them on the table and look at the young man “ok Mr. Ardalan, I am waiting”
“I was a kid when both my parents died in the bombing. I was four or five. I have been homeless since then. I have been bouncing from home to home, aunt, uncle….but I never liked to be a burden for anyone. It runs in our family. A tribal thing you can say.” I couldn’t afford to finish school.
I did go to the School though. My uncle put me there but with all the Bombing, chaos and those long beeps, it was impossible to continue the school. Sadam was ploughing each corner of the city. We would go to the underground shelters sitting in the dark waiting for the alarm to stop. My cousins would sit in their mom’s arms but I would sit alone in the darkened hug myself. It was during one of those bombings that I realized how much I enjoyed such loud noises and my cousins’ fear. I took pleasure in watching their misery. I felt like I was becoming as dark as those black outs. To cut the story short, the war was over and I grew up.’ I moved to Tehran and was wandering around for a long time with no place or a job. But I did learn to pickpocket in Ilam And did the same for living here too. “Do you know why I was stealing? Because I didn’t want to ask my family for money. As I said earlier, it’s a tribal thing. I had my own family but they were dead and I couldn’t bring myself to asking uncle and aunts for money. I liked to have money though. But do you know why I liked to have money a lot? Because I wanted to help others. That is why I decided to be like Robin Hood since Childhood. I wanted to steal from the rich and give it to the poor. I consider myself to be the Robin Hood. I did the same in Tehran. Whenever I had a good day pickpocketing, I would go to the Ghar square and give the money to the drug addicts.
I would buy those warm clothes and food. I would be kind to the lonely people because I never had that in my life. To cut the story short, I kept getting arrested and going to jail but I would get out and do exactly the same. Every time I went behind bars, I learned a lot of tricks and met new faces. They taught me a lot of things to boost my performance. I know almost all the felonies in this city. I also socialized with quite a few of the gurus in Iran.”
“To cut the story short, life behind bars trained me well. I became a professional.
I could snap any lock with a small pin detective. The last time I went to the jail.
I met a gun smuggler. He was from the city I was born in. he taught me a lot.Then I got out and was homeless for some time again. I moved around, from one city to another and visited my family sometimes. Then I heard from that same smuggler that they have opened the borders. It was the time that the Americans said we’re hunting down Sadam, when they killed that dog. I accompanied him to the Kurdistan border and learned the tricks and the know-hows.
“Yes, yes. I was going to Kurdistan. There is a valley about thirty kilometers from Kamyaran. It’s on the border line. You can find any sort of weapons there. I was buying from there and was selling it to the outlaws in Sistan and Baloochestan *.”
“You are the first one I am telling this to the detective. I have never told anyone about any of this. The Baloochestan outlaws drug dealers deal mainly in cocaine. The drugs were supplied from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They would get it and sell it in Tehran,Varamin and nearby cities. I sold them weapons. Any sort of guns I would make hidden compartments in the bus and place the guns there.”
Then I would drive the bus to Zahedan and Khash and other cities*. Every time they would choose different places and I would take the goods without anybody noticing me. The Baloochi gangs gradually liked me and we became friends. They trusted me with their life because I did business with almost all the criminals in that region.
“I got those types of rifles, kalashnikov, vintage Brno, colt and grenade and bullets both real and blank.”
They took me in their private gatherings and I became familiar with all they did. They considered me as a fellow.“
“To cut the story short, I was informed that there is an upcoming operation in Robat Kareem *involving huge amounts of heroin. The cargo included fifteen kilograms of heroin that was supposed to be sold for two million Toman per kg to the smugglers from Tehran.”
“Got myself to Robat Kareem as fast as I could and assembled a team. I monitored them a few days before the job. There was an unfinished building south of Robat Kareem. I got all the team members police uniforms from Hasan Abad*. I dressed them so good that we were easily mistaken for the actual police force. “I dressed myself as the sergeant. I almost looked like you. On the day of the operation, we waited till both parties arrived and then fought them off guard. We attacked them and started exchanging gun shots. They decided to run away leaving both heroin and the money behind. What I had not predicted was that the actual police force was also there watching the whole scene and now, we were trapped. So again we both started to fire.”
“I had managed to get the money and the goods and take off. I was about to get out of the parking when I faced a sergeant or detective like yourself along with another officer. I kept my cool and walked towards them. Because of the uniform, they didn’t recognize me at first, so when we faced each other I shot them and ran away. I later knew that I had killed that sergeant.”
“It turns into an action blockbuster from this point on wards.
“I returned to Baloochestan and continued dealing weapons for them and Handel the drugs on the side. I had three men that I had found in Sanandaj* whom I used as accomplice and did the same trick on the drug smugglers every now and then. We would dress up as police and attack them while they were dealing and then steal their money and their drugs. The Baloochi mafia were furious and kept looking for the thief but I didn’t leave any trace. They were calling me, The Shadow. They had put a price on my head. But I had never given my real name to anyone. I kept changing the men I used and I always had a different name, Ali, Moosa, Ahmad,
“Drugs? I would sell the drugs to other smugglers in different parts of Iran. Sometime I would sell it back to Afghans.“Everything was going smooth when one time that I was taking 10 guns for the Baloochi, the police suspected me and after they found the guns, they arrested me and brought me to Tehran.“They had identified me as the shooter of that sergeant so they took me to Robat Kareem because they had opened the file against me there. They were keeping me in solitary and would move me with hand-cuffs and chains in my legs. The solitary was hot as the furnace. A few days in solitary and I came up with an idea.”
“I cut the drawstring of my pants with my teeth. Then I called the guard on duty and told him the pants are loose. I asked him to bring a pin so that my pants won’t come off when I go to the washrooms.
He brought the pin, which I used to open myself loose but I acted like I am still coughed.
“Later that day, the same guard brought me lunch. I disarmed him and got out of solitary. I did the same to two other guards and then freed two inmates that I knew and were my men before. We took the guards’ weapons and again the same story of the gunshots and we escaped.”
“They have kept us somewhere in the middle of the desert. The three of us walked barefoot for more than twenty hours that day in that desert. We walked barefoot about eighteen kilometers detective.“
“I was back to my wandering days again, no home, no friends, not even a hello, nothing. I was a tramp. Sometime, in the bus or train station, I would steal a bag or a wallet and live off of it for a few days. One day, I found a Walkman with a headphone in a student’s case. Every night, I would go in the parks or under the bridges and listen to the songs till I fell asleep. One of the songs sounded something like this: I was the hostage of the shadows of the night/the night trapped in the cold web of the sky/Step by step, I will accompany the shadows/ till I reach the dark city of insanity. This poem was me and who I was. So to speak.“
“I stole a Samsonite once. There were about three million Toman worth of travel cheques. I figured that it was enough to start a business. First, I stole a purple van. I would drive to the Ghar square, the poor neighborhoods like Halabi Abad* towards Shoosh square. I would find the right men that would look proper for the job. I’d give them a cellphone, drugs and a little money. “
“First, I would teach them some tricks and explain. I would show them how to handle a gun, bullets, shooting and the whole scenario about a robbery.”
“My plan was flawless, the shadows were back again. We would observe each house that we were targeting for a few days or even weeks. I had an informant in Shahrake Gharb, I had found him a job in a big supermarket in that area. He was a delivery boy. Every time he delivered groceries to each house, he would assess the situation and details of the house, are you listening? And he would report back to me. I would pay him a salary to do this. I also didn’t let them exchange details, their contacts or where they lived with one another. They would just see each other at each meeting. Are you paying attention? They couldn’t make contact with each other to make sure they wouldn’t go behind my back. I had convinced them that the chances of being caught is much less if they did as I said.“
“The basics of this job is the ability to observe, do you get me?”
“Look, I would change the rendezvous at least three times for each operation. I would give them a quite hard time before I gave out the actual address. I wanted to make sure there is no under-cover agent involved and there is no chance they could go for the robbery behind my back.“
“I also acted like a tough and cruel guy. Once, one of them told me that the other one had stolen a gold coin from my pocket. I paid them, got them a house and looked after them. But the money was mine and no one was supposed to steal from me. So I took the coin back and shot him in both legs. I would punish betrayal in the worst possible way, so they were quite scared of me. They had come to believe that I was a very well connected person with so much at my disposal. Do you get me?“
“I’ll cut the story short now, just know something detective. The shadow’s story is not over yet. There is no prison that could keep me locked for long, with or without gun fire. I won’t stay in the prison, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. I can’t stand the prison.”
All the thirteen members of Forty Thieves of Baghdad are arrested, following Ardalan’s confession and cooperating with the police. They describe Ardalan as a very cruel yet generous man. The police realize that they have been very lucky to catch Ardalan by coincidence. It would have been almost impossible to find Ardalan, if arrested, through any of the members. The shadow had left no trace of his identity and none of his fellow members knew how to reach him or who he really was.
He had never participated in any of the robberies. He had not directly sold the stolen goods. In fact, none of the fence or middlemen had ever met Ardalan in person.
He admits that he doesn’t have access to the stolen food as they are all sold for cash and the money was given to the poor and homeless of Darvaze Ghar. The detective believes that Ardalan is telling the truth.
Ardalan Fasih was a wishful thinker. He fantasized to be a hero only found in stories. A story that would not end now. People who know him, would describe him as “bipolar”. At times he would appear a very polite and reserved man and other times, he would turn to a complete despicable moron. They all give different descriptions of the man but there is one thing that they all have in common: he is adventurous and courageous.
Someone had mentioned this about Ardalan: “from a point forward, when a dark force awakens in someone’s mind and drags them to the mud, then there is no way out. The criminals are born corrupt. The force is in their genes. One should hope, those forces never come to the surface and rise in their sick mind.” Such opinions are common sense and not scientifically proven whatsoever, but very well dominant in our society. But if we are attentive enough to look at ourselves, as considered normal citizens of the same environment, we might just find the same dark forces in our heads. The same dark force that could be triggered at any point or circumstance.
Looking over Ardalan’s character as an individual, we could study the story of the Forty Thieves of Baghdad from a social point of view. Any crime can ultimately be considered as a collective event. Not a single crime is committed involving a solo isolated individual. At least two people are required for a crime to be considered as a crime, a criminal and a victim. So there are always more than one person to be blamed when a crime is committed. Not often, the victim is the one to be blamed for the offense that has happened. But in every court case, there is always just one person that goes to trial and is punished: That person happens to be probably more action-oriented, more creative and more sensitive.
Ardalan Fasih was sentenced to thirteen years behind bars and then executed. In his report for the judge, the detective emphasizes that the guilty offender has stated that he will not be kept in bars. He even mentions this verbally to the judge again when he meets him. As a regular, the judge appoints Ardalan to be kept in Rajayee Shahr prison that is regarded as one of the maximum-security facilities in the region. In less than two years later, Ardalan escaped Rajayee Far prison and became one of the most sought after thieves in Tehran along with Parviz Parande. The pair made another story that can only be told in a free country. Where I am, censorship will not allow me to tell such a story. However…
Many years later, just as the New Year is approaching and the police force are busy counting the days off, changing shifts and eating sweets, a telephone call changes the detective’s seasonal holiday vibes.
He is sitting behind his desk that is on the second floor overlooking all the junior detectives and officers. The desk is behind a long window facing the sun. The detective is thinking about his retirement days when the telephone call transforms his thoughts.
One of the informants call from the Rajayee Shahr prison and claims that Ardalan Fasih is currently in Ghezel Hesar prison. He has changed his identity. He goes by the name Khosro Khosravi known as the Doctor and he will be released tomorrow.
On a cold winter day, an old client, an addict who has recently shifted from heroin to crack, calls Ardalan begging for a fix. Ardalan refuses as he doesn’t think it’s not safe. The client lives in a corner in the big bazaar in Tehran and Ardalan reminds him that there are lots of police officers commuting in the Bazaar today. There is a religious ceremony taking place in the area and Ardalan doesn’t want to be seen in the public. However, the client offers such a high price that can’t be easily neglected.
Sabze Meysam, the Green Square, is an old area in Tehran famous for quality food and Chelo Kabab* restaurants. Also the political meetings of religious figures, the Azerbaijan democrats who have changed identity can be seen here. It is the place to buy and sell gold and foreign currencies, mainly Dollars. It is a very interesting and valuable piece of land and the region home to Shah Mosque and Melli Bank (National Bank). The crowd on such a day is packed and moving around is very difficult.
Ardalan enters the square wearing a very expensive white suit. His leather shoes are shining, wearing a bitter colon. He tries to find his way through the crowd when someone recognizes him: “Hello to the legendary doctor!”
“Who’s doctor? you are mistaking me for someone else” he passes and walks away but a few steps further another voice is addressing him “please wait Brother” the undercover agent has been suspicious of Ardalan and he along with a few other officers take Ardalan to a side corner to conduct a body inspection during which they find 4 grams of crack on him.
A year later, just as he is packing his suitcase to leave the prison, a guard approached and inform him that there is visitor asking to see him “ khosro khosravi, come with me, you have a visitor”
When he enters the office of the prison supervisor, he sees the detective waiting for him in a dark navy suit and a white shirt that makes him appear sweeter. The detective stands up to greet him. Ardalan smiles at him “well, well, look who’s here. The detective”
“Hello the great Mr. Ardalan”
The prison supervisor gives a very surprised and confused look and says “but this man is not The Ardalan, his name is Khosro. Khosro Khosravi, we call him the Doctor”
“No his name is Ardalan Fasih”
“You mean that Ardalan who…”
“That’s him. So how have you been Ardalan?”
“Nothing detective, I was about to leave when you appeared” they both laugh.
The prison supervisor starts calling every single prison and informing them that they have found Ardalan Fasih and that he is now in custody. And this is how the story of the greatest escape from one of Iran’s most secure prisons ends, although there isn’t any conclusion and it won’t bring the shadow and the bird to their freedom.
Ardalan Fasih has been staying behind bars since that day and I couldn’t find his exact location. To be honest, I am not even sure if he is alive. People recall him as a brave man. Someone that had no room for fear in his existence. He was indeed a man at fault, whose existence had brought damage to the society. But it can be said that the society too, had brought him nothing but misery.
Maybe if it was possible to listen to Paviz Parande’s advice and leave the safety of the people in their own hands, then maybe justice would finally be a two way street.
(Bio: Danial Haghighi is a published author based in Tehran, however, his works have appeared in journals like statorec, The Decadent review and N+1 for one, as well as a short story published in New York collection Tehran Noir in 2014. His controversial stories and his honest style have introduced him as a substantial writer.)