Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir had high praise for the British government Sunday for breaking diplomatic relations with Syria. Addressing the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, his first as Prime Minister, Shamir called the move “a significant step forward” in the battle of the Western democracies against international terrorism.
Britain acted Friday after the Syrian Ambassador in London, Loutof Allah Haydar, was implicated in an attempt to blow up an EI AI airliner last April 17. A 32-year-old Jordanian, Nezar Hindawi, who tried to have a suitcase full of high explosives smuggled aboard the plane at Heathrow Airport, was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison.
Testimony at his trial indicated he acted in collusion with the Syrian envoy and the Embassy staff. Haydar was summoned to the Foreign Office immediately after sentence was passed. Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe told Parliament later that Haydar was ordered to close his Embassy and withdraw its 21 staff members. The British Embassy in Damascus, with a staff of 19, was closed at the same time.
Within hours after the British move, the U.S. and Canada announced they were recalling their Ambassadors to Damascus.
DISAPPOINTMENT WITH FRANCE
Although the Israelis were obviously delighted by these developments, official reaction in Jerusalem was low-key. The explanation given was that Israel did not want to appear to have had a role in the deterioration of relations between the West and Syria. The feeling in Jerusalem is that it is now up to the Western countries to lead the fight against terrorism.
Official sources in Jerusalem expressed disappointment with France which did not follow the British lead and reportedly plans to sell arms to Syria. Israel’s Ambassador in Paris, Ovadia Soffer, is expected to ask the French government for “clarifications” of the three billion Franc arms deal reported in the newspaper Liberation.
EI AI SECURITY GUARD FOILED TERRORIST ATTEMPT
The attempt to plant deadly explosives aboard the EI AI plane before it took off for Tel Aviv with 375 passengers aboard was foiled by an alert EI AI security agent. Testimony at Hindawi’s trial exposed the utter ruthlessness of the plot and the Syrian Embassy connection.
Referring to the latter, the London court judge, Sir William Mars-Jones, said, “We will not tolerate acts of terrorism from other countries operating here or from their country.” The sentence was one of the toughest handed down by a British court in recent years.
Hindawi was arrested after the El Al security staff found three pounds of plastic explosives in a suitcase which had passed through a metal detector and would have been carried aboard the plane. Hindawi had given the suitcase to his Irish woman friend, Anne-Marie Murphy, who was unaware of what it contained.
The Jordanian had promised Murphy, who was pregnant with his child at the time, that he would follow her to Israel on a later plane and marry her. The concealed bomb was timed to explode when the plane was over Austria.
SYRIAN AMBASSADOR IS IMPLICATED
The prosecution claimed that after leaving Murphy at the airport with the suitcase, Hindawi proceeded to the Syrian Embassy where he presented a letter to Ambassador Haydar. After telephoning Damascus, the Ambassador was alleged to have put Hindawi in the care of three diplomats who tried to disguise him and send him to a safe hide-away.
Hindawi told police interrogators after his arrest that he was a member of the Abu Nidal terrorist group and was to be paid $250,000 to destroy the Israeli aircraft with all aboard The date, April 17, is the Syrian National Day.
The British jury of seven men and five women reached a unanimous verdict of guilty. Before passing sentence, Mars-Jones told Hindawi “This was a well-planned, well-organized crime which involved many others besides yourself, some of them people in high places.
“If your attempt had succeeded and that bomb had gone off, some 380 innocent civilians, men, women and children, would have perished, including the woman you professed to love and was carrying your child. A more callous and cruel deception and a more horrendous massacre is difficult to imagine.”
Hindawi, who implicated the Syrian Ambassador during questioning by police, changed his story in the course of his trial. He denied the attempted murder charge, claiming that he had tricked Murphy into smuggling drugs into Israel and that Israeli intelligence agents replaced them with explosives.