JERUSALEM (Mar. 29)
Heavy sentences imposed by an Athens court Thursday on two Arab guerrillas for their machine gun attack on an Israeli airliner at the Athens airport in 1968 were viewed here today as evidence that the world was recognizing the danger of such attacks on neutral territory and against civilians. Mahmoud Muhammed, 26, a teacher, and Maher Hussein Suleiman, 20, a student, were charged with willful manslaughter, illegal possession and use of weapons and explosives and obstructing air navigation. Leon Shirdan, an engineer, was killed and a stewardess wounded when the guerrillas attacked the El Al plane, ready for take-off. The teacher was sentenced to 17 years and five months in prison. The student was given a term of 14 years and three months. They were found innocent of charges of willful manslaughter, which carries the death penalty as a maximum sentence.
The court ruled there were “extenuating circumstances” because of the “feelings of patriotism” of the defendants and said the two had acted under orders from their “superiors.” Evanghelos Misopoulos, the prosecutor, who had demanded conviction of the pair on willful manslaughter charges, said the attach had been ordered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The defendants declared they had been given orders to destroy the airliner but not to kill anyone on board. The court awarded $1,000 in damages to the widow of the slain engineer. (British press observers said today the defendants and their lawyers in the Athens trial were highly pleased by the court verdict. Though the sentences were stiff, the main point was that the charge of willful murder against Mahmoud Muhammed was reduced to manslaughter by negligence and both of the accused were acquitted of the charge of attempted mass murder. The Guardian said the evidence indicates that political considerations played an important part in the trial. The Guardian’s Athens correspondent noted that Greece has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel and generally pursues a pro-Arab policy in foreign affairs. The Athens Government was concerned with the welfare of the many Greek citizens residing in Arab countries.)