Australia reopens terror case after reportedly interviewing bomber in U.S. jail

SYDNEY (JTA) – Australian counterterror agents have reopened an investigation into the bombings of the Israeli Consulate and a Jewish social club in Sydney 30 years ago.

In the first Australian counterterror cold case ever to be reopened, police confirmed Saturday that they had established a special strike force called Operation Forbearance to investigate the two bombings on Dec. 23, 1982.

Detectives traveled in May to an American jail to interrogate a prime suspect, Jordanian-born Palestinian Mohammed Rashid, local media reported. But the police at a news conference Sunday neither confirmed nor denied whether members of Operation Forbearance had interviewed him.

Rashid, 65, is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Indiana for the bombing of a Pan Am flight from Japan to Hawaii in August 1982. A passenger was killed and 15 were injured.

Australian detectives believe that Rashid, who is scheduled to be released in March, also was behind the bombings of the Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah Club. No one was killed in either bombing, which occurred hours apart, although two people were injured at the consulate. The bomb in the car park underneath the Hakoah Club, a popular Jewish social club in Bondi, was designed to collapse the building, police believe.

Mohammed Ali Beydoun, then a 32-year-old Lebanese-Australian citizen, was charged with the Hakoah bombing but the case was dropped by the New South Wales attorney general due to insufficient evidence.

It has long been suspected that the perpetrators were members of the Iraqi-based May 15 terror organization.

Operation Forbearance detectives are now seeking Husayn Muhammad al-Umari — known as Abu Ibrahim, or the “bomb man” – who like Rashid was at the forefront of the May 15 organization. Umari is accused of preparing the bomb on Flight 830 to Hawaii that was planted by Rashid. The FBI is offering a $5 million rewaerd for information leading directly to his capture or conviction. Umari, a Jaffa native, has a Lebanese passport, according to the FBI.

May 15, sometimes known as the Abu-Ibrahim Faction, was a Baghdad-based offshoot of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Founded in 1979, it claimed credit for the bombings of El Al offices in Rome and Istanbul, as well as bombings of Israeli embassies in Vienna and Athens, according to the Encyclopedia of Terrorism.

“We welcome the fact that new evidence seems to have come to light that might help solve this case,” Yair Miller, the president of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, told Sydney’s The Sun-Herald newspaper.

Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry who has compiled the annual report on anti-Semitic incidents in Australia since the late 1980s, told Channel Seven news that “It’s very promising that we now know this matter hasn’t ended.”

 

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