JERUSALEM (Oct. 13)
The El Aksa mosque fire trial was adjourned for three weeks today at the request of the defense counsel, Yitzhak Tunik. Presiding Judge Henry F. Baker promptly granted a recess until Oct. 30 to allow time for psychiatric examinations of the defendant, 28-year-old Denis Michael William Rohan. Mr. Tunik said he might utilize the time to summon witnesses from abroad. He did not identify the potential witnesses but it is believed that they might include members of Mr. Rohan’s family in Sydney, Australia.
Mr. Rohan, through Mr. Tunik, who is a prominent criminal lawyer, admitted setting fire to the Al Aksa mosque in East Jerusalem last Aug. 21 but claimed he was mentally ill at the time and therefore not punishable under Israeli law. Testimony by defense witnesses during the first week of the trial was obviously intended to corroborate the defense claim. Rohan was pictured as an eccentric who belonged to a small Protestant fundamentalist sect and was convinced that God had ordained him to destroy the mosque so that Solomon’s Temple could be rebuilt on the site.
The trial opened a week ago in a packed hall in the Jerusalem convention center. Israeli authorities made elaborate preparations for the trial which, they acknowledged, was aimed primarily at world opinion and intended to refute Arab charges that Israel was responsible for the fire. Interest ran high on the first day when Rohan pleaded innocent to the charges that carry a combined penalty of 44 years imprisonment. But he reversed his plea to guilty the following day and interest flagged. By the end of last week, the 400-seat hall was more than half empty and overseas television camera crews were complaining that their material was not being used at home.