BRUSSELS (Jan. 16)
A Palestinian terrorist serving a life sentence for fatally attacking Jewish schoolchildren in Antwerp nearly 10 years ago could be freed momentarily, according to unconfirmed reports here over the weekend.
Authorities here would release the man in exchange for five Belgians held captive by the Abu Nidal gang, the reports say. But the Justice Ministry has flatly denied any such deal is in the works.
Local press accounts said the terrorist, Nasser Ali Sayed, will receive a government-approved furlough for “good behavior” and be allowed to “disappear” discreetly.
He is serving time at the Leuven Central Prison, northeast of Brussels, where he reportedly receives mail and has access to public telephones.
A recent letter from Beirut, Lebanon, informed him that “everything is done to get his release from jail,” newspapers here reported. The prisoner has spoken by telephone to “mysterious parties” in Jordan and Syria, the reports said.
Rumors that an exchange might be negotiated surfaced last month when two young French children, the sisters Marie-Laure and Virginie Valente, were freed in Libya by the Abu Nidal gang.
The youngsters are the daughters of a French woman, Jacqueline Valente, who is still in captivity. They were cruising with a Belgian family, the Houtekins, when their yacht, the Silco, was captured by terrorists in the Eastern Mediterranean in November 1987.
ACCUSED OF SPYING FOR ISRAEL
The Abu Nidal group accused them of being Jewish spies for Israel. None of the captives is Jewish. But the real reason for the kidnapping may have been to take Belgian nationals hostage for the release of Sayed.
His was a particularly heinous crime. In July 1979, he aimed a grenade attack at Jewish school-children boarding a bus in Antwerp for a summer camp. One of them, a French boy, was fatally wounded.
Sayed was apprehended and sentenced to life imprisonment in July 1980. He admitted to membership in the Fatah Revolutionary Council, an extremist terrorist group headed by Abu Nidal.
Sayed also planned to attack an El Al plane at Brussels’ international airport. That was foiled when police found explosives in his hotel room.
In addition to Valente, the terrorists continue to hold Fernand Houtekins; his brother, Emmanuel; Emmanuel’s wife, Godelieve; and their teen-aged children, Laurent and Valerie.
The Fatah Revolutionary Council originally said their yacht was seized off the Gaza Strip and that the alleged spies were taken to a port in Lebanon.
But it appears now that they may have been seized off the Libyan coast and imprisoned in Libya all along. That theory gained credence by the fact that the two French children were freed in Libya, not in Lebanon.