PLO Official Convicted in N.Y. in a 20-year-old Bombing Case

The bombs sat quietly in rented vehicles, poised to wreak early afternoon destruction on some of the busiest buildings in New York City.

This happened not in recent weeks but on March 4, 1973 — during a visit to New York by then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

But the bombs planted at the El Al terminal at Kennedy International Airport, at the Israeli Discount Bank and at the First Israeli Bank and Trust Co. (now Bank Leumi) failed to detonate.

Subsequently, the police and prosecutors failed to convict anyone of attempting the terrorist act.

Until last week, that is, when acknowledged Palestine Liberation Organization official Khalid Mohammed el-Jassem went on trial and was swiftly convicted by a federal district court jury of attempted bombing.

Charles Rose, executive assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, presented evidence that Jassem’s fingerprints matched prints found on the bombs, and relied on hotel records to link him with planning the bombing.

No witnesses identified Jassem as the suspected 1973 bomber, and Jassem’s attorneys, William Kunstler and Ronald Kuby, claimed that the fingerprints taken from the bomb were “fabricated.”

After three days of argument, the jury took just over three hours of deliberation to convict Jassem of the 20-year-old bombing.

The defense lawyers argued that Jassem; a 45-year-old Palestinian living in Cyprus seized by Italian police in January 1991, was being “framed” to “appease” Israel.

A TIP FROM THE MOSSAD?

They also complained that their client could not get a fair trial in the hostile climate created by coverage of the recent explosion at the World Trade Center. The prime suspects in the Feb. 26 explosion, which killed five people, are Moslem fundamentalists.

“There was no way this man could get a fair trial during daily press briefings and inflammatory coverage of the World Trade Center explosion,” Kuby said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

While Judge Jack Weinstein sequestered the jury during the trial, Kuby pointed out that jurors are usually told in advance they will be sequestered for a case’s duration, but they were not for this case.

“The judge sprung it on jurors the first day of the trial to protect them from the media,” said Kuby.

Jassem, who the FBI said was traveling in 1973 under the name of Khalid Duhhan al-Jawary, will be sentenced on March 17. Rose said that at the sentencing he intends to present evidence “from European police agencies” indicating that Jassem was involved in other terrorist acts after the attempted bombing.

Kuby pointed to “factual evidence that the FBI didn’t have a clue until 18 years later, when a tip came that they should arrest this man.”

The New York Times cited an anonymous source saying the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, supplied the tip leading to Jassem’s arrest. The Israeli Consulate had no reaction.

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