Greek Court Drops Weapons Charge on Arab Wanted in U.S.

From Times Wire Services

A Palestinian sought by the United States in the 1982 bombing of a Pan American jetliner was cleared Monday of illegal weapons charges after a homemade knife was found in his prison cell.

The court decision came after an anonymous telephone caller said a bomb had been planted in the heavily guarded courthouse.

Bomb squad units with dogs searched the court in Piraeus, Athens' main port, for two hours but failed to find any explosives.

The trial then resumed and Mohammed Rashid, 39, was cleared of the misdemeanor weapons charges. He was returned to Korydallos prison, where he has been jailed since his arrest in Piraeus in May.

"I had it (the knife) because I fear for my life. I also fear they may extradite me to the United States," Rashid told reporters in the courtroom.

Found During Jail Search

Prison guards found the knife and a file in Rashid's cell during a random search on Friday.

"I don't think the objects found in his cell could really be used to harm anyone," prosecutor Zacharias Kokkinakis told the court.

The three-member panel of judges acted on the prosecutor's suggestion and voted 2 to 1 in favor of acquitting Rashid.

Rashid is wanted by U.S. authorities on charges of planting a bomb that exploded aboard a Pan Am jet over Hawaii. A Japanese teen-ager was killed and 15 people were injured in the blast. The explosion blew a hole in the fuselage, but the plane was able to land safely in Hawaii.

The Greek Supreme Court twice has delayed a decision on whether to extradite Rashid. The case was further delayed last month when three Supreme Court judges resigned after a terrorist group responsible for killing a Supreme Court prosecutor threatened to act against court officials if Rashid were extradited.

Washington has called the case a test of Greek willingness to cooperate in the fight against terrorism and warned Athens that relations could be damaged unless Rashid is handed over.

Rashid was arrested after a U.S. tip last May when he was in Greece on a four-day transit visa. He served five months in jail for using a false Syrian passport and has been held since, pending a decision on extradition.

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