Syria Linked to Bombing at Rome Airport : U.S. Official Says Damascus Had Role in Terrorist Training
The United States has “good evidence” that the lone terrorist survivor of the Rome airport massacre last December was trained at a camp in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, a U.S. official said today.
Mohammed Sarham, captured by Italian police after the attack, received “at least marginal” terrorist training in Lebanon, went from there to Damascus and flew on from the Syrian capital to Europe, said the official, who demanded anonymity.
Speaking separately, Secretary of State George P. Shultz refrained from implicating Syria in the attack.
The New York Times, meanwhile, quoted unnamed American officials as saying Sarham told Italian authorities that Syrian agents had trained him and accompanied him on his journey from the Bekaa to Damascus, Belgrade and Rome.
U.S. Focuses on Libya
For the last five months, the Reagan Administration has focused its anti-terrorism efforts on Libya, charging that Col. Moammar Kadafi’s government provided training, passports and financial support to a Palestinian leader named Abu Nidal.
Asked about the Syrian link today, Shultz said: “These are investigations. There are several being conducted by different European governments. When the investigations are concluded, we will of course be very interested in knowing what the results are.
“We don’t want to prejudge the results. We want to go about this properly. However, we have the same attitude toward terrorism from whatever source it comes from,” Shultz told a public forum sponsored by Rep. Silvio Conte (D-Mass.).
Last week, Shultz indicated in a speech that the evidence linking Syria with terrorism is growing. Syrian President Hafez Assad has denied any Syrian role.
The U.S. official who spoke privately said “there seems to be good evidence they got training in the Bekaa.” But, the official said, it was “very marginal” training, while the terrorist preparations in Libyan camps had been intensive.
“We are not yet able to establish the link,” another official said. “We have not been able to corroborate it.”
The newspaper said the United States believed that Sarham had been acting under orders from Libya until President Reagan was given the information about the possible Syrian connection two weeks ago.
Intelligence agencies still believe that Libya was involved in the Rome and Vienna airport raids, but now also believe that Syria played at least as large a role, the newspaper reported.
Shortly after the attack, the head of Italian military intelligence told a Rome newspaper that Sarham represented the Abu Nidal faction, a Palestinian splinter group, and had been trained in Iran and entered Italy through Syria.
The Rome attack was carried out by five Abu Nidal gunmen. Seventeen people, including five Americans, died, and 80 people were wounded. It apparently was coordinated with an attack at the Vienna airport by four terrorists, two of whom were captured and are in Austrian custody. Three people were killed and more than 30 wounded there.