BUDAPEST (Dec. 24)
One of two Palestinian terrorist groups is believed responsible for Monday’s attack on a busload of Soviet emigres here.
Reports here point to either the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a dissident constituent of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by George Habash, or a splinter of the Popular Front headed by Salim Abu-Salam.
Both have long records of attacking Israeli and Jewish targets abroad.
The remote-control car bomb explosion, which severely damaged the Ikarus bus shuttling the emigres from the Budapest railroad station to a Jewish Agency hostel at the airport, was described by the Budapest police chief as a “highly professional job.”
Hungarian police have been unable to confirm earlier allegations that the car in which the bomb was placed was a Lancia. It was completely destroyed in the explosion.
The police published an Identikit rendering of two men “of Arab appearance” who are being sought in connection with the booby-trapped car. But there have been no arrests so far and no group has claimed credit for the bombing.
The Hungarian interior minister and the chief of police have offered a reward of about $6,000 in finding the perpetrators.
Israeli Ambassador David Kraus paid a hospital visit to the two Hungarian policemen who were injured in the attack. One suffered serious burns when his Lada automobile, which was escorting the olim, blew up.
SECURITY SERVICES COOPERATE
Meanwhile, the 28 Soviet olim who escaped unscathed from the attack arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening, a day later than expected but in good spirits.
In Budapest, George Suha, spokesman for the chief commissioner of the Hungarian police, denied claims made Monday by Uri Gordon, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration Department, that Hungarian police had known two days earlier that an attack had been planned.
Suha called the claim “complete nonsense,” in a telephone interview.
Suha categorically denied the allegations, adding that had it been so, the Hungarians would have informed the Israelis. He said there are good relations between the security services of the two countries.
Asked to comment on reports that Israeli intelligence forces had come to Budapest from Warsaw to investigate the attack, Suha only cited the good cooperation between the countries’ security.
Of the suspect parties, Abu-Salam’s group, though small and unsophisticated, has participated in attacks abroad in cooperation with the Habash group and Shi’ite organizations. It specializes in planting time-bomb devices in public places.
If this group is indeed responsible for the attack, it would mark a deviation from the PLO’s policy since 1974, when, at the 12th Palestine National Council session, it renounced terrorist activities abroad.
A break with policy by the Habash group could signify despair over the current Arab-Israeli peace process, to which Habash is bitterly opposed. The PFLP has intensified its activities in the Israeli-administered territories and may now be going after immigrant targets overseas.
Arab countries and terrorist organizations have been urging measures to sabotage Soviet immigration. The radical Islamic Jihad and the fundamentalist Hezbollah in southern Lebanon have dedicated themselves to that end since large-scale aliyah began in 1989.
The dissolution of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe has made their task more difficult. Nevertheless, the Budapest attack showed that immigrant transit facilities and airports are still prime targets.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)