Deserter, Given False Identity, Comes Out of the Dark
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Adnan Awad has lived in the shadows for eight years. Now he has opened himself to the glare of publicity, feeling he has everything to gain and nothing to lose.
Awad, defector under U.S. government protection for eight years, betrayed a radical Palestinian group that had sent him to plant a bomb in Europe. He surrendered to American authorities, who brought him here in 1984.
Since then, he has provided what U.S. officials describe as key testimony in the trial of Mohammed Rashid, convicted Jan. 8 in Greece for the 1982 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Hawaii in which one person was killed.
Rashid’s supporters have been lobbying for him to get part of a $4 million anti-terrorism reward - offered jointly by the government and two airline groups - for which he is eligible. The matter is under review within the government, said a State Department official.
Awad is bitter. After repeated questioning by the FBI, the Justice Department and other agencies, the government discarded him ″like a piece of paper going in a basket,″ he told a Senate hearing Tuesday.
His female companion, an American with whom he has lived for several years, wept quietly as he described his ordeal.
He accused the government of false advertising.
Until coming here, Awad said, he believed ″this is a freedom country. I find is not true.″
Testifying under heavy security, the 49-year-old Palestinian described his recruitment in Iraq by the radical May 15 faction to carry a bomb-laden briefcase to Switzerland and to set it off in a major Geneva hotel. He said the group’s leader, Abu Ibrahim, blackmailed him into undertaking the mission by threatening his family and his business.
In broken English, the tall, heavyset witness also described the intimate links between Abu Ibrahim, a master bomb-maker, and the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. Awad said he told it all to U.S. authorities, who nonetheless decided to keep Iraq off its list of countries that support terrorism. Iraq was removed from the list in 1982 and restored in 1990.
The session of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs was convened to discuss how to improve the witness-protection program, in which Awad was placed so that others like him are attracted to come forward and testify against terrorists. The program is designed primarily for people whose lives are in danger for testifying against criminals.
Awad was placed in the program in 1984, but left it several times in frustration at the severe limitations it placed on his freedom.
″It is a very restrictive program,″ conceded Neil Gallagher, counter- terrorism director for the FBI. ″But there’s a purpose behind it, and that is to ensure a witness’ safety.″
Gallagher said the government erred, however, by taking more than six years to grant Awad legal status in the United States.
Awad has persistently complained and pleaded to become a citizen with proper credentials so he could become independent of the program.
Being moved from city to city, devoid of a credit history, unable to read or write English, Awad said he tried and failed in several businesses. He tried to make new friends but was limited by the need to lie about his identity, Awad said.
One day he was Joe; the next he was Lawrence. ″No one believed me,″ he said.
Awad, waving his hands to punctuate his frustration, said neither the marshals nor anyone else could protect him if Iraq or Abu Ibrahim decide to kill him. He said he sleeps with a gun under his pillow.