PARIS (Mar. 1)
A French court sentenced Lebanese terrorist Georges Ibrahim Abdullah, 35, to life imprisonment Saturday for complicity in the 1982 murders of Israeli diplomat Yaakov Barsimantov and American Military Attache Col. Charles Ray.
The stiff sentence surprised many inasmuch as the state prosecutor had asked the panel of seven magistrates for a sentence of “no more than 10 years” to avoid making a martyr of Abdullah and exposing France to terrorist attacks.
The sentence is seen here as a test of French and West European reactions to terrorist threats. Legal authorities and government and opposition politicians stressed that public opinion and the jury demonstrated their determination not to yield to threats and blackmail.
The court also awarded 150,000 Francs ($25,000) in damages to Ray’s widow, Mrs. Sharon Ray, and 100,000 Francs ($16,000) each to his son and daughter.
Mrs. Barsimantov was not represented in court. She was awarded a symbolic one Franc (17 cents).
Abdullah’s lawyer, Jacques Verges, who will defend Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie next May in Lyon, warned that the verdict “will be considered a declaration of war by Abdullah’s militant Arab friends.” Verges told reporters that “Abdullah wanted either an outright acquittal which would have recognized his combattant status or a heavy sentence, but not a lenient or political verdict.”
French radio reported that terrorist threats were received immediately after the sentence was read in a packed courtroom by presiding Judge Michel Colomb. Heavy police reinforcements were deployed throughout Paris minutes afterward. Police units checked passing cars and passersby and searched customers in the main department stores, some of which have been targets of terrorist attacks in recent months.
Barsimantov and Ray were shot to death outside their homes. A woman, Jacqueline Esbert, a Lebanese Christian Marxist, will be tried in absentia next spring as the actual killer. She is believed to be hiding in northern Lebanon.