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Head of Jewish Defense League Among Bombing Suspects : Three Accused of Terrorist Acts in N.Y.

May 09, 1987|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Police and the FBI arrested the head of the militant Jewish Defense League and two companions on Friday on charges of participating in a series of bombings in the New York City area, including a tear gas attack on the opening night audience of Russia's Moiseyev Dance Company last September.

The Soviet ambassador to the United Nations and numerous dignitaries were in the audience for the Moiseyev performance, and 20 people were hospitalized after the tear gas billowed through the Metropolitan Opera House in New York's Lincoln Center.

Cites Possible Panic

"The tear gas could have caused at most a panic that would have trampled people to death," said Thomas L. Sheer, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office, who announced the arrests at a news conference in Manhattan.

Those arrested were Victor Vancier, 30, the JDL's leader; Jay Cohen, 23, and Sharon Katz, 44, both, according to the FBI, members of the organization.

Prosecutors said that with the arrests they had solved all the significant JDL terrorist acts in the New York area.

Asked whether there was any link to the "West Coast homicide"--a bombing in Santa Ana, Calif., that killed Alex Odeh, western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee on Oct. 11, 1985--Sheer said that that bombing was "still under active investigation, but not in the complaint."

Informant Plays Key Role

According to the criminal complaint, the FBI made major strides in its investigation of six bombings over three years through information provided by an informant within the JDL, identified only as CS (for confidential source). Laboratory analysis of bomb fragments provided further clues.

According to the criminal complaint, in a conversation taped by FBI agents, Cohen stated that Katz carried the tear gas grenade in her handbag into the Metropolitan Opera House the night of Sept. 2. "CS advised that Cohen and Katz were acting under the direction of Victor Vancier," the complaint charged, adding that Cohen actually exploded the bomb.

The next day, Vancier, as head of the JDL, held a news conference applauding the tear gas bombing, but disclaiming any responsibility.

The complaint also stated that CS and Cohen, during a conversation secretly taped by the FBI, discussed a firebombing of the stage door of Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, which occurred at 3 a.m. last Oct. 20.

"Cohen admitted his participation in the bombing," the complaint charged. "CS had constructed the device and Cohen allegedly ignited it. CS advised that the target was selected by Victor Vancier." Vancier later held a news conference denying responsibility, but praising the firebombing.

The complaint named four other bombings.

It charged that on Feb. 23, 1984, Cohen placed a firebomb under a car in the parking lot of the residential complex used by Soviet diplomats in New York. The JDL claimed responsibility for that act.

Other Bombing Incidents

The complaint said that on two occasions, in December, 1985, and in March, 1986, bombs were placed under a car belonging to Walter Berk, the acting chairman of a JDL chapter who was involved in a dispute with other members over mailing lists and finances. Authorities said Berk is still alive.

Authorities also charged that on April 28, 1986, Cohen placed a firebomb, at the direction of Vancier, under a loading dock at a Pan Am building at Kennedy International Airport to protest the airline's flights to Russia.

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