1982 Airline Bombing Suspect Held
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Palestinian sought by U.S. authorities for 16 years in the bombing of an American jetliner was arrested abroad and brought to a federal courtroom Wednesday.
Mohammed Rashid was charged with planting a bomb aboard a Pan-Am flight from Japan to Hawaii in August 1982. The explosion killed a Japanese teen-ager, injured 15 other passengers and tore a 3-foot hole in the cabin of the Boeing 747. He pleaded innocent.
A nine-count indictment unsealed Wednesday alleges that Rashid and an alleged accomplice put a bomb beneath a seat cushion while on a flight to Tokyo and set the timer to explode during a later flight.
The indictment says Rashid was a member of the Baghdad-based terrorist group 15 May, ``whose objective was to promote the Palestinian cause by ... means of force and violence,″ against American and Israeli interests.
Rashid, 51, was charged with murder, placing bombs, sabotage and other crimes. If convicted, he faces a possible life term in prison if convicted, Justice Department spokesman John Russell said.
It was learned that he had been in custody in Egypt since 1996 and that U.S. agents got him from Egyptian authorities. But U.S. officials refused to discuss the circumstances of Rashid’s arrest.
The indictment names two other alleged conspirators, the reported head of the 15 May group, Abu Ibrahim, and a woman, Christine Pinter. Ibrahim made the bomb and Rashid and Ms. Pinter took it on board, using false names and visas, the indictment alleges. It says Rashid and Ms. Pinter had their young child in tow when they allegedly put the bomb under seat 47K.
Neither Ibrahim nor Ms. Pinter has been arrested, and a federal prosecutor made no mention of them in Rashid’s brief court appearance.
U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson ordered Rashid held until a further hearing Friday and appointed a public defender to represent him.
Speaking through an interpreter, Rashid told the judge he was born in Palestine but thrown out in 1948, when the Israeli state was formed.
``Since that time I have been a vagabond between the Arab countries,″ Rashid said.
Rashid spent a portion of that time in prison in Greece, where he was arrested on a false passport charge in 1988. U.S. authorities had charged him in the secret indictment the year before and wanted Rashid brought to the United States for trial.
Although the bomb exploded while the jet was over ocean, the United States claimed jurisdiction because the plane was owned by an American airline.
But Greek authorities refused to extradite Rashid, who was eventually tried there under a 1971 agreement that allows alleged airplane terrorists to be tried in the country where they are arrested.
Rashid repeatedly denied his identity during his trial and claimed he was a Palestine Liberation Organization fighter in Beirut at the time of the Pan Am explosion. The PLO helped him with his defense.
A key witness against Rashid was an Iraqi Palestinian, Anad Awad, who was in the Justice Department’s witness protection program and was flown to Athens to testify.
Rashid was convicted in 1992 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
An appeals court reduced his sentence to 15 years a year later, and he was freed early in 1996 for good behavior. He then flew from Athens to Cairo.
U.S. officials criticized the release, arguing that he was the ringleader of a prison uprising in 1994.
Rashid complained Wednesday that he is being subjected to double jeopardy.
``In all the countries of the world ... no one is to be tried twice for the same crime,″ Rashid said.
Rashid is also charged with placing a bomb aboard another Pan Am flight to Rio de Janeiro two weeks after the fatal bombing. That bomb was discovered before it exploded.