Arab Blames Israelis in Airport Massacre
The lone survivor of the four-member Arab commando unit that opened fire in a Rome airport almost two years ago went on trial Tuesday and accused Israeli security agents of being equally responsible for the 16 people killed.
“I did not come here to ask forgiveness,” 20-year-old Ibrahim Khaled said. “I came here to explain how the massacre happened.”
Palestinian guerrilla leader Abu Nidal and his reputed lieutenant Rashid Hamieda are being tried in absentia on the same charges as Khaled--massacre and possession of weapons for terrorist purposes. Abu Nidal, head of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, split with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization in 1973.
There was silence when Judge Filippo Antonioni read out Abu Nidal’s and Hamieda’s names, looked up at the court and said: “Fugitive.”
3 Guerrillas Killed
Khaled was seriously wounded in the gun battle that occurred after the four guerrillas attacked Israeli and U.S. airline check-in counters with automatic rifles and hand grenades, killing 13 people. Khaled’s three companions were killed by Israeli security men at Leonardo da Vinci Airport.
The attack on Dec. 27, 1985, was one of the bloodiest Palestinian assaults in Europe. A nearly simultaneous attack at Vienna’s airport left four people dead.
Five Americans died in the two attacks, which left a total of 121 wounded.
Ballistics experts have reported that in the Rome attack, the guerrillas fired 102 shots, Israeli security agents 62 and Italian police 16 during the 90-second battle in the airport crowded with holiday travelers.
A report by public prosecutor Domenico Sica, based on confessions by Khaled--who was initially identified as Mohammed Sarham--said Nidal’s group was responsible for both airport assaults.
Since 1972, the Abu Nidal group has been blamed for more than 100 attacks across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
“It was not only we who carried out the massacre. Yes, I admit that we are guilty. But even the others are guilty. The Israelis fired 72 shots to (try to) kill four people,” Khaled said.
“I am sorry the massacre ended up the way it did. . . . We were forced to do it because there was a shoot-out between us and the Israelis,” he added.
Adjourned Until Monday
Antonioni cut Khaled short, saying he would have ample time to describe his motives during future hearings. After more procedural action, the trial was adjourned until next Monday.
Khaled faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted. Italy does not have capital punishment.
Before Khaled spoke, the judge called out the names of some of the 72 injured or relatives of the victims who are asking court permission to seek civil damages in a separate trial.
Khaled, who marked his 20th birthday as the trial began, said his cooperation with the authorities does not mean he regrets taking part in the attack. “If being a repentant means abandoning the armed struggle, then I am not a repentant,” he said.