Hunger Strike by Iran-Supported Inmate Increases Tension
PARIS (AP) _ A four-month hunger strike by the leader of an Iranian-directed team that failed in a 1980 bid to assassinate an exile leader in Paris is raising concern about possible terrorist attacks in France.
Anis Naccache, supported by Iran’s president and foreign minister, says France promised to free him in the deal that won the release in May 1988 of all French hostages that were held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon.
Serving a life sentence, Naccache could only get out of prison if pardoned by President Francois Mitterrand, who has said he might do so, but has not made clear when or under what circumstances.
Naccache, a Lebanese Moslem, has lost 59 pounds since he started his fast on Sept. 8 and weighs only 105 pounds, said his lawyer, Jacques Verges.
Naccache is refusing food but is drinking liquids and is fed intravenously from time to time by doctors at the Fresne prison outside Paris.
Naccache has lost his immune defenses to disease, Verges said.
″If tomorrow someone goes into his cell and sneezes in his nose, he could very well die from it,″ Verges said on French television.
It is widely believed that if Naccache dies in prison, his friends will strike back.
″The death of Anis Naccache, if it comes brutally at the end of his hunger strike, will by all evidence be serious for France, which would find itself confronted by an increased terrorist menace easy to predict,″ the conservative newspaper Le Figaro wrote Saturday.
The hunger strike seems to have hardened Mitterrand’s stand.
″He cannot hope to free himself with a hunger strike,″ the president said Friday. ″If Anis Naccache decides to die in prison and we do not have the means to stop him, this will be his responsibility.″
A year ago, Mitterrand called on Iran to provide proof that Naccache’s freedom really had been promised in the hostage deal negotiated by the conservative government of Premier Jacques Chirac.
Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati have said it was promised but apparently have not given Mitterrand any evidence.
Chirac denied Naccache’s release was part of the agreement, and Mitterrand said: ″I have no reason to doubt the word of Mr. Chirac.″
During the uncomfortable two-year period of ″cohabitation″ in French government, the conservative premier and Socialist president were not sharing many secrets. The hostage deal came at the peak of the hotly contested 1988 election campaign in which Mitterrand won re-election by defeating Chirac, and the Socialists regained control of the government.
But the former premier suggested that Mitterrand should consider including Naccache in the annual Bastille Day pardon on July 14, 1989, ″because we are in a period of tension and should not add to the reasons that might make us targets of terrorism.″
Naccache was one of three prisoners whose freedom was demanded by a group calling itself the Committee for Solidarity with Arab and Middle East Political Prisoners, which claimed responsibility for bombings in 1985 and 1986 that killed 13 people and injured more than 250 in Paris.
Investigators say they believe the committee was a front for Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shiite extremist organization in Lebanon that denies involvement in terrorism and hostage-taking.
In an accident of the court calendar that is sure to increase the pressure, 10 people charged in the 1985-86 bombings will come to trial Jan. 29.
The alleged leader of the group, Fouad Ali Saleh of Tunisia, gave a hint of what is to come at a pre-trial hearing Friday, shouting in court, ″Hezbollah will massacre you 3/8″ and ″The West will die at the hand of Islam, prepare your caskets 3/8″
When Prosecutor Jacques Fourvel tried to interrupt, Saleh yelled out, ″Shut up, you 3/8 Jews and Christians have no right to talk when a Moslem is speaking. Islam will be your death. God will crush you, murderer, son of a pig, executioner 3/8 You eat like a pig, you have ripped up the Koran 3/8″
Naccache’s hunger strike and the upcoming trial were cited as possible reasons last month when France put stiff anti-terrorist security checks into effect, especially at airports and border crossings.
Fears were spurred by the seizure of 485 pounds of explosives in Valencia, Spain, apparently en route for France. Spanish police said at least three men arrested with the explosives were Hezbollah members.
Naccache and four other men were convicted in the July 1980 attack on Shahpour Bakhtiar, Iran’s prime minister before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Bakhtiar escaped injury and still lives in Paris, but a policeman and a bystander were killed.
Both defense and prosecution said at the trial that Naccache and his team were acting on orders from senior Iranian officials.