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Two West Germans Sentenced for 1976 Plot to Shoot Down Israeli Airliner

Two West German nationals imprisoned in Israel following their arrest in Nairobi, Kenya in January, 1976 for attempting to shoot down an Israeli air liner, were given 10-year prison sentences by a military tribunal after a lengthy closed trial that ended last week, it was disclosed today. But the defendants, Brigitte Schulte, 28 and Thomas Reuter, 27, will be released and deported from Israel early in 1981 after five years’ incarceration.

The reduced prison term was part of a deal between the State Attorney and the defense under which the defendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges and the prosecution withdrew its demand for life sentences. Three Arab accomplices arrested at the same time are standing trial separately.

The trial and the incident that led to it were shrouded in secrecy from the start and strained relations between Israel and the West German government. (The Bonn Foreign Ministry said today that it was surprised by the sentencing.) Israeli authorities had also come under mounting international pressure to dispose of the three-year-old case which, for reasons unknown, did not come to trial until 10 months ago. Except for the announcement of the sentences and the plea bargaining deal, no further information has been forthcoming from Israeli sources.

FOREIGN SOURCES PROVIDE ACCOUNT

According to an account of events by foreign sources, Schulte, Reuter and the three Arabs had been under surveillance by Israeli and Kenyan security agents for some time before their arrest near Nairobi International Airport. During that period they visited the airport several times, apparently to gather intelligence. They were seized shortly before an EI AI airliner with 150 passengers aboard was due to land at Nairobi from Johannesburg. According to the accounts, the live suspects were in possession of Russian-made shoulder missiles of the SAM-7 type known as “Strela.”

They were jailed in Kenya until. February, 1976, when at the request of President Jomo Kenyatta, they were transferred to Israel and held incommunicado. Israel refused for many months to acknowledge their presence but finally did so after repeated representations by West German authorities and the parents of the two German suspects. The latter began a campaign to secure the release of the suspects assisted by the Red Cross, Amnesty international and West German authorities.

No outsiders were admitted to the trial but the military tribunal allowed a representative of the West German Embassy to be present and a representative of the International Red Cross. (A Bonn Foreign Ministry spokesman said today that the Embassy was not informed in advance when the sentence would be pronounced and he was not certain whether the Embassy representative was in the court room at the time:)

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