BRUSSELS (Jul. 29)
The Jewish community here is protesting vehemently against the likelihood that Belgium will release a Palestinian terrorist who is serving a life sentence for the 1981 slaying of a Jewish teen-ager in Antwerp.
His parole, in exchange for a Belgian family of four held hostage by a radical terrorist group for the past two years, is under serious consideration.
The Belgian authorities have not yet announced a decision with respect to Said al-Nasser, 35, who became eligible for parole on Friday. But Cabinet sources said that a consensus was reached within the government to parole him.
Belgium is known to be negotiating discreetly with the Fatah Revolutionary Council, headed by the notorious terrorist known as Abu Nidal. Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya is said to be serving as intermediary.
Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens said last week that Belgium was prepared to release Nasser in exchange for Emmanuel Houtekins, his wife Godelieve Kets and their children, Laurent and Virginie. They were members of a yachting party kidnapped in the Mediterranean in November 1987.
Other members of their party, including a French national, were freed earlier this year in connection with Belgium’s expected release of the imprisoned terrorist.
In an unrelated move, this past Friday, France released five convicted terrorists of Lebanese and Iranian nationality and flew them to Iran. Their freedom is believed to be tied to the 1988 release of six French hostages in Lebanon.
In Brussels, meanwhile, Eyskens said the Belgians held captive would have to be freed either before Nasser or simultaneously with him.
SENTENCED TO DEATH
In August 1981, Nasser attacked a group of Orthodox Jewish children boarding a bus for summer camp outside the Agudat Israel’s Antwerp branch. David Kohane, 15, from France, was killed, and 20 other youngsters were injured.
Nasser was sentenced to death. But under Belgian law, death sentences are automatically commuted to life imprisonment, which generally means 30 years behind bars. A life prisoner can be paroled after 10 years for good behavior.
But Jewish circles in Antwerp are convinced that if Nasser is released he will kill again.
“Once released, this terrorist will quickly return to training in order to commit other terrorist attacks,” a Jew who lives in the quarter where the attack occurred 9 years ago told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency over the weekend.
The Israeli Embassy in Brussels refuses to become involved in what it considers an internal affair of Belgium.
“It’s up to the Belgian (Jewish) community here, which lost one of its sons, to express itself on this matter,” an embassy spokesman told JTA.
“The State of Israel, for its part, has already proclaimed that it would never give in to terrorists,” he added.
But a public opinion poll published by the daily La Derniere Heure found that Belgians approved the early release of Nasser by a 45 percent to 36.6 percent majority.
Belgians may have been appeased by the two goodwill releases over the last year-and-a-half of the Frenchwoman, Maria Valente, and her children, who were among the captives. Valente was released in April with a daughter born in captivity and her Belgian companion, Fernand Houtekins, brother of Emmanuel.
Media reports said Libya had urged the gestures and was working for the release of the remainder of the Houtekins family to facilitate ratification of a trade agreement with Belgium.
Meanwhile, the Paris daily Le Figaro reported July 24 that Abu Nidal, whose real name is Sabri al-Banna, is either dead or a captive of Palestine Liberation Organization forces loyal to Yasir Arafat.