U.S. Prods Reluctant Greece to Extradite Arab Terror Suspect
From his prison cell, Palestinian Mohammed Rashid is emerging as a key international symbol of American resolve--and Greek ambivalence--in the fight against terrorism.
Rashid, a tall and spare 39-year-old, says he is a freedom fighter, but the United States says he is an airplane bomber. It wants to make him the first alleged international terrorist successfully extradited to face American justice.
The Greek Supreme Court is deciding whether to ratify a lower court decision granting the U.S. extradition request. Diplomatic sources and Athens newspapers speculate that the decision will come later this month.
Accused by the United States of planting the in-flight bomb that killed a Japanese teen-ager and wounded 15 other passengers on a Pan Am 747 flying from Tokyo to Honolulu in 1982, Rashid was arrested last May when he sought to enter Greece on a forged Syrian passport.
U.S. Tip Cited
An intelligence tip from the United States led to his arrest, but resolution of his case implies a collision of opposites: the Reagan Administration pursuing terrorists wherever it can find them versus the government of Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou seeking conciliation with Greece’s Arab neighbors.
The United States and Greece’s Western allies say Papandreou is soft on terrorism, preferring to see no evil than to vigorously pursue terrorist groups that have used Greece as a base.
“The Greek government’s anti-terrorism policy appears to be one of complete surrender. The security of every citizen in the world is jeopardized by its unconscionable conduct,” charged nine U.S. congressmen in a resolution submitted to the House last week that calls for Rashid’s prompt extradition.
The Papandreou government denies accusations that it has a gentlemen’s agreement allowing safe harbor in Greece for Palestinian extremists in exchange for their promise not to commit acts of violence in Greece or against Greek targets.
At a court hearing in July, Rashid denied any role in the 1982 bombing. “The Americans say what they like,” he asserted. “I had nothing to do with it.” He said he is a member of the Palestine Liberation Army, a wing of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. “I was passing through Greece on a secret mission,” he told the court.
U.S. investigators believe Rashid, who was jailed in Greece from 1973 to 1976 for possession of hashish, is a senior member of an extremist Palestinian terrorist group called May 15. The group has been named as one of the suspects in last month’s bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland.
Greece is at pains to maintain good ties with Arab neighbors to whom it is linked by history and geography as well as by ideology and economics. Arab states are among Greece’s strongest supporters in its simmering dispute with Turkey over Cyprus. The government said last week that it could not intervene in the Rashid affair since it was before the courts, but domestic opponents say that under Papandreou, the line between politics and the law has not always been clear.
In a surprise decision in mid-December that most observers ascribe to Papandreou personally, Greece reneged on an agreement to extradite Palestinian terrorist suspect Abdel Osama Zomar to Italy, deporting him instead to a welcoming Libya.
Italian police say Zomar, now 27, helped to plan an attack on Rome’s main synagogue, in which a 2-year-old boy died and about three dozen worshipers were wounded in October, 1982. The next month, Zomar, who is linked to Libya-supported Palestinian extremist Abu Nidal, was caught driving a car loaded with explosives near the Greek border with Turkey. In 1984, the Supreme Court approved Zomar’s extradition to Italy at the end of his sentence.
When the time for extradition arrived last month, Justice Minister Vassilis Rotis, a newcomer to the Greek government with no great personal clout, concluded that in bombing the synagogue, Zomar had been “acting in the struggle for the re-acquisition of his homeland.” He was ordered deported to the country of his choice. He chose Libya.