WASHINGTON — The FBI told a House panel Wednesday that "Jewish extremist elements" are suspected in the Santa Ana bombing that killed Alex M. Odeh, West Coast director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and that the investigation "extends beyond the boundaries of the United States."
"The Alex Odeh case is the highest priority investigation in our domestic terrorism program and it will continue to be until it is solved," assistant executive FBI director Oliver B. Revell told the House judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice, which heard testimony on discrimination and terrorist acts aimed at Arab-Americans.
"We have suspects in this case and we are pursuing these suspects," Revell said. But he added that "we at this time have insufficient evidence to bring charges."
Although Revell refused to disclose the number of suspects or any other details of the case, he described the suspected perpetrators as "Jewish extremist elements."
However, he refused to link those elements with the Jewish Defense League, which initially was suspected of being responsible for the bombing. "We cannot prove" that the suspects were acting on behalf of a particular organization, he said.
Revell would not estimate how long the investigation would continue, adding that an anonymous, unwitnessed bombing is the most difficult type of crime to solve. However, when pressed about information on the suspects, he acknowledged that "certain members of Jewish extremist groups have traveled through Israel."
Odeh was killed the morning of Oct. 11, 1985, when he entered the Arab group's headquarters on the second floor of a Santa Ana office building, setting off a bomb that was rigged to explode when the office door was opened. Odeh, 41, died two hours after the blast while undergoing surgery at a nearby hospital. Seven others working in adjacent offices suffered minor injuries.
FBI Efforts Increased
The FBI, previously criticized by Arab-American activists for its apparent lack of progress in the Odeh investigation, increased its efforts in the case last December, but Wednesday's statement marked the FBI's first public discussion of its progress in the case.
Revell linked the Odeh killing to two other bombings, the Sept. 6 bombing of a house in Brentwood, N.Y., in which one person was injured, and the Aug. 15 bombing of a house in Paterson, N.J., which left a man dead.
The Brentwood house belonged to Elmars Sprogis, who the FBI said was "purportedly responsible for guarding Jews" at a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
The New Jersey house was owned by Tscherim Soobzokov, who was identified as a Nazi war criminal in the book "Wanted: The Search for Nazis in America," by Howard Blum. Soobzokov died of injuries suffered in the bombing.
"We believe (the three cases) were interrelated and in fact carried out by the same group," Revell said.
Former JDL members have said that as many as a dozen people living in Israel have been questioned about the bombings--at the request of the FBI--by the Israeli police and officers of Shin Bet, an Israeli agency similar to the FBI.
Fern Rosenblatt, former national coordinator of the JDL in Brooklyn, said in an interview that she was questioned Tuesday by an FBI agent who said that "a few individuals from Israel with military training" may have been responsible for a series of bombings aimed at Arab-Americans and suspected neo-Nazis, including incidents in New York and New Jersey.
Response to Report
Revell made his comments on the status of the investigation in response to a report earlier this week by the National Alliance, a New York-based newspaper that addresses concerns of the Arab community and other minority groups. The newspaper reported that it had obtained a Secret Service memo Jan. 7 claiming that the FBI had closed its investigation.
The memo was from the Secret Service's Los Angeles office to its intelligence division in Washington. The National Alliance obtained it June 13 through the Freedom of Information Act, but parts were deleted before its release, as is customary.
The memo said the investigation into the Odeh murder by the FBI and another agency, whose name was deleted, had "met with negative results" and the case was being closed in Los Angeles. It said the probe "has failed to identify the perpetrators."
But Revell, calling the document the result of "a misunderstanding" between the FBI and the Secret Service, said the investigation "has never been suspended, and that communication is in error."
Protecting the President
The Secret Service, which never was involved directly in the Odeh investigation, was trying only to obtain information useful in preventing threats to the President and others it is charged with protecting, Revell said.
Leaders of the Arab-American and Jewish-American communities, victims of harassment and members of Congress also testified before the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who referred to the discrimination against Arab-Americans as a "national tragedy."
Odeh's widow, Norma, said in a written statement, "While our government apprehends terrorists halfway across the world, it seems helpless in the face of domestic terrorism directed against Arab-Americans."
Times staff writer Dave Palermo in Los Angeles contributed to this story.