The Greek Supreme Court on Friday upheld an extradition order for a Palestinian wanted by the United States in the 1982 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner that killed a youth and injured 15 others.
Mohammed Rashid had appealed a lower court’s decision that granted a U.S. request for his extradition in a case that Washington considers a test of Greece’s willingness to fight terrorism.
“The court rejects Mohammed Rashid’s appeal by majority of votes,” said Nikos Sakelaropoulos, president of the Supreme Court’s five-member criminal division. The court gave no reason for its decision.
The final say on whether Rashid is sent to the United States must be made by the minister of justice, according to Greek law.
It is unlikely that a decision will be made before the June 18 general elections, however, and Rashid still has time left to serve for crimes prosecuted by Greek authorities.
Even though a final decision is pending, a Justice Department spokesman said in Washington that the Supreme Court’s ruling was significant.
‘This Is the Biggest Hurdle’
“We think this is the biggest hurdle,” said David Runkel, an aide to U.S. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh.
Thornburgh, who was returning to Washington from Madrid, where he attended a conference on terrorism, issued a statement praising the Greek court’s decision.
“The court’s decision sends a strong signal around the world that outright, senseless murder cannot be excused under the dubious claim of political motivation,” Thornburgh said. “There’s nothing political about blowing up innocent civilians in the sky.”
Rashid, 39, is wanted in the United States for placing a bomb aboard a Pan Am jetliner that exploded while the plane was flying over Hawaii. A Japanese teen-ager was killed and 15 people were injured. Despite the blast, the plane was able to land safely.
Rashid was arrested in May, 1988, at Athens airport following a tip by the U.S. Embassy and was sentenced to seven months in prison for carrying a false passport. He was sentenced to another eight months on March 28 for keeping makeshift knives in his prison cell.
Decision Put Off for months
The Supreme Court’s decision on Rashid’s appeal had been postponed for months on grounds that U.S. authorities had not provided enough documents to the Greek court. But U.S. diplomats said the court received all the necessary documents.
Rashid’s lawyers had argued that their client is actually Mohammed Hamdan, 34, a Palestine Liberation Organization military officer not involved in the terrorist acts for which Rashid is wanted.
Spyros Fytrakis, one of two defense lawyers, claimed that sending Rashid to stand trial in the United States would “upset Greece’s foreign policy and the country’s good relations with the Arab world. It’s obvious the Americans have political reasons to demand his extradition.”
The Supreme Court convened under heavy security with dozens of policemen ringing the building in the city center and sharpshooters stationed on nearby roofs. Judges arrived escorted by police guards.
On April 10, the urban terrorist Marxist group May 1 detonated a bomb outside the apartment of a Supreme Court judge and threatened to take action against other judges involved in the Rashid case.
May 1 has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Supreme Court prosecutor Anastasios Vernardos in January. Another terrorist group, November 17, also claimed the shooting death of a magistrate and the wounding of another.