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Trial Sought For U.S. Embassy Bombers

March 26, 1996

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ A military court of appeals on Monday ordered the trial of 15 militants accused of engineering the 1983 suicide truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut which killed 62 people.

The five-man tribunal overturned a verdict by a lower military court in 1993 that ruled the deadly bombing, which killed 17 Americans, was covered by an amnesty issued in 1991 for crimes committed during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

``The amnesty law clearly and specifically excludes murder crimes against foreign diplomats and diplomatic targets,″ the higher court’s verdict stated.

All 15 Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptians who were released in 1993 are to be retried at a date to be set soon. Arrest warrants should be issued for their rearrest at once, according to Monday’s verdict.

They will be tried in absentia if not apprehended, a judicial source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said the bombing charge carries the death penalty.

The eight-story embassy compound was devastated by a suicide bomber who drove an explosives-packed van into the embassy’s catering section.

The blast was claimed by a pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim extremist group calling itself Islamic Jihad. Western intelligence reports linked the group to Hezbollah, Iran’s main Shiite ally in Lebanon.

The new judicial move came two weeks after another appellate court freed two Lebanese who were convicted in the 1976 kidnap-murder of U.S. Ambassadors Francis E. Meloy Jr., his economic counselor Robert O. Warring and their Lebanese driver Mohammed Moghrabi.

The three disappeared after the ambassador’s car was stopped at a Palestinian militia checkpoint on the Green Line that separated Beirut’s Christian and Muslim sectors during the war. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found on a west Beirut beach a few hours later.

Two Lebanese men, Bassem Farkh, 39, and Namek Kamal, 46, were convicted of the triple kidnap-slaying in 1994 and sentenced by a military court to death.

But the appeals court ruled on March 13 that both were covered by the 1991 amnesty and set them free.

The Lebanese government has been trying in vain to talk the U.S. administration into lifting a travel ban it imposed against Lebanon in 1987, following a spate of anti-American suicide bombings, hostage-taking and aircraft hijacking attacks.

No comment was available from the U.S. embassy.

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