Police Think Irishwoman Was Duped Into Bomb Bid by Arab Boyfriend
LONDON (AP) _ Police arrested an Irishwoman with a bomb in her hand luggage as she tried to board an Israeli El Al jumbo jet Thursday, and they said she may have been duped by her Arab boyfriend into carrying the explosives.
The bomb was ″viable and would have exploded once the aircraft was airborne,″ said Commander George Churchill-Coleman, chief of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad.
″It is highly likely that such an explosion would have resulted in the loss of the aircraft, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, and the 400 passengers and crew,″ he told a news conference.
The plane arrived safely in Tel Aviv later, where El AL spokesman Nahman Kleiman said there were 370 passengers and 18 crew.
The woman, an Irish citizen whose name and age were not given, was going to Israel on holiday, he said. She was brought to London’s Heathrow Airport by her Arab boyfriend, known to her as Nezar Hindawi, to catch El Al’s 9:50 a.m. (3:50 a.m. EST) flight to Tel Aviv, which had originated in New York, Churchill-Coleman said.
Press Association, the domestic news agency, said the woman was 32 and pregnant. One press report said the bomb was set to go off at 1 p.m. (7 a.m. EST) when the plane would have been about halfway to Israel.
Churchill-Coleman declined to give any details about the device, except that it contained less than 10 pounds of explosives.
Although the bomb was packed in her bag, he said: ″We believe at the present time that she intended to board the aircraft in all innocence, not knowing what was in the holdall.″
Churchill-Coleman said it was a ″very real possibility″ the woman was duped by her boyfriend and did not know about the explosives.
The tactic was tried by Arab terrorists more than a decade ago using innocent European or South American women. El Al security officials always question passengers before boarding about bags or packages they did not pack themselves.
Churchill-Coleman said the woman was being questioned, but ″there is no question of her being charged at the moment.″ The anti-terrorist laws empower police to hold suspects up to seven days without bringing them before a judge.
The bomb was discovered by El Al’s own security staff in a routine check ″at an early stage,″ Churchill-Coleman said. He called Heathrow’s own security measures ″absolutely satisfactory″ and would not comment on suggestions the bomb passed through British security unnoticed.
Heathrow’s police chief, Superintendent Stuart Higgins, said: ″As far as I can ascertain, she went through the checks that are here in operation at Heathrow at the present time. ... It appears from the evidence that it was discovered through the keen eye of El Al security.″
Hindawi, described as being about 35 with graying black curly hair, was being hunted, and his photo was distributed along with appeals to the public to help trace him, Churchill-Coleman said.
He said Hindawi had lived in London for a year, entering and leaving the country several times. Churchill-Coleman said he did not know Hindawi’s nationality.
The Irishwoman, he said, lived in London and worked for a hotel. She had met Hindawi in London and ″they know each other very well,″ he said. Asked if he was her boyfriend, he said: ″Yes.″
Churchill-Coleman dismissed any notion that she might be linked to the Irish Republican Army. ″You shouldn’t draw any conclusions from the fact that she’s Irish,″ he said.
The bomb was found 35 minutes before the scheduled departure of El Al flight 016, which had arrived from New York with 250 passengers and was picking up 110 more in London.
Police hurriedly herded hundreds of people out of the Pier 3 area of Terminal 1 where the plane was parked. Arriving flights were put into holding patterns or diverted to Heathrow’s three other terminals.
As the woman was led away - handcuffed and looking dazed, according to witnesses - a frantic but fruitless search was mounted for her Arab companion. Hours later, cars still were being checked by police as they left Heathrow.
An airport source told The Associated Press all the passengers on the El Al flight were questioned by police. The plane left for Tel Aviv nearly five hours late.
Heathrow, handling the world’s largest number of international flights, stepped up security after terrorists attacked El Al check-in desks in Rome and Vienna airports in December. Twenty people were killed, including five Americans.
El Al flights were moved from Terminal 3 to the more secure Terminal 1. Police, breaking the longstanding tradition of the unarmed British bobby, began carrying carbines on airport patrol.