LONDON — British authorities Monday directly implicated the Syrian government for the first time in the attempt to plant concealed explosives aboard an Israeli airliner leaving London for Tel Aviv with nearly 400 people aboard.
A 31-year-old Palestinian charged with trying to place the bomb aboard the El Al flight last April was "acting on instructions, apparently from the Syrian government," British prosecutors alleged Monday.
The prosecutors said Nezar Hindawi has admitted responsibility for the bombing attempt. They said that after planting the explosives in the suitcase of his unsuspecting girlfriend, who was due to board the flight, Hindawi followed instructions to go to the Syrian Embassy in London, where he met with Ambassador Loutof Haydar.
Monday's proceedings, a preliminary hearing for the prosecution to demonstrate that sufficient grounds exist to bring the case to trial, marked the first time British authorities have publicly accused Syria of complicity in the April 15 incident.
Damascus has been linked circumstantially to Hindawi, a Jordanian citizen who entered Britain last February using a false Syrian passport, ever since his arrest the day after the bombing attempt. But government officials until now have avoided any direct reference to possible Syrian involvement in planning or placing the bomb.
On May 11, Britain expelled three Syrian diplomats after their government refused to waive diplomatic immunity to allow them to be questioned in the case. In late May, however, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said Britain "at the moment has no such evidence against Syria of state-sponsored terrorism of anything like the kind that obtains in the case of Libya."
Syria, and Ambassador Haydar, repeatedly have denied any involvement in the bombing attempt. Some Syrian officials reportedly have suggested that their government is being "framed," perhaps by Israel or an anti-Syrian terrorist organization with Hindawi's help.
In its opening statement Monday, the prosecution dropped one of two initial charges brought against Hindawi--that of "conspiring with others" to murder the 358 passengers, plus crew members, aboard the plane. In addition to a remaining original charge of trying to "cause an explosion aboard an aircraft," police have added charges for unlawful possession of a gun and ammunition, which were found with Hindawi at the time of his arrest.
Monday's presentation by the prosecution was somewhat sketchy, but it added a number of details to previously reported accounts. When Hindawi arrived here last February, it was alleged, he was accompanied by two men also carrying Syrian passports.
In early April, he renewed a relationship with a girlfriend, Anne-Marie Murphy, an Irish national, and asked her to marry him on learning that she was pregnant with his child. He bought her the April 15 ticket to Tel Aviv as a wedding gift and dropped her off at London's Heathrow Airport that morning with a suitcase, saying he would take a later flight.
During a routine search at the El Al departure gate, the bomb was discovered.
Hindawi's escape plan, the prosecution said, was to join a flight crew from Syrian Arab Airlines that was leaving for Damascus. But under an alternative plan, apparently designed for the possibility of the bomb's discovery, he allegedly was directed to Syrian Ambassador Haydar, who arranged for him to spend the night.
The next morning, however, in an unexplained sequence of events, Hindawi turned up alone at a hotel, run by a Jordanian known to him. The proprietor telephoned a relative of Hindawi, and the two persuaded Hindawi to turn himself over to the police.