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Justice Department Tells Congress It Will Not Seek Indictment of Arafat in the Murder of Two U.S. Diplomats

April 23, 1986
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Justice Department has notified Congress that it will not seek the prosecution of PLO chief Yasir Arafat for being implicated in the murders of two American diplomats in Sudan in 1973.

Maintaining that laws enacted over the last decade for prosecuting suspects in the murders of Americans abroad could not be applied retroactively, Assistant Attorney General John Bolton informed Congress that no arrest warrant would be issued.

A letter signed by 44 Senators last February called on Attorney General Edwin Meese to investigate allegations that Arafat directed the killings of U.S. Ambassador in Khartoum Cleo Noel and Charge d’Affaires Curtis Moore on May 2, 1973. Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D. NJ) and Charles Grassley (R. Iowa), the two who initiated the letter, subsequently sent Meese a declassified 1975 study conducted for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which asserts that the murders were “approved by Yasir Arafat.”

Also pressing for an investigation into the alleged role of Arafat have been the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, and the National Jewish Coalition.


In the Justice Department’s letter to Congress, Assistant Attorney General John Bolton maintained that the U.S. lacked legal jurisdiction and sufficient evidence to seek Arafat’s prosecution for the two murders. He said that retroactively applying a 1976 law on prosecuting suspects in terrorist killings overseas would violate the Constitution.

In view of the lack of jurisdiction, Bolton said, “undertaking an exhaustive global search for additional detailed evidence of Arafat’s complicity in the 1973 murders would divert precious investigative resources which we must devote to locating and apprehending those responsible for terrorist attacks in cases where we do have jurisdiction.”

Among the cases he noted were the hijacking of TWA airliner 847 in June 1985, in which an American Navy diver was killed, and last October’s hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, in which an elderly American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer, was murdered. Saying he was “extremely disappointed” at the decision not to seek prosecution, Lautenberg maintained in a statement that “a strong argument could be made that the department had jurisdiction to go after Arafat if it had the political will.” He called the Justice Department’s failure to conduct an exhaustive investigation “inexcusable.”

A staff member in Lautenberg’s office said the Senator would pursue other legal avenues for Arafat’s prosecution, possibly including the application of a broadly-written racketeering law enacted in 1970 and recently used to prosecute members of The Order, a neo-Nazi organization based in Washington State, for an array of violent crimes, including the murder of a Jewish radio announcer, Alan Berg, in Denver.

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