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The California Murder Case That Israel Is Sweeping Under the Rug : Justice: In 1985, Alex Odeh was killed by a pipe bomb in Orange County. The FBI has three suspects, but they are in Israel; extradition is unlikely.

May 13, 1990|Robert I. Friedman | Robert I. Friedman is the author of "The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane--From FBI Informant to Knesset Member" (Lawrence Hill), from which this article is adapted

NEW YORK — In the late summer and early fall of 1985, the Jewish Defense League carried out a string of pipe bombings, killing two persons. Alex M. Odeh, the Western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Santa Ana, was one victim.

JDL founder Rabbi Meir Kahane had long advocated the formation of a Jewish underground to spread fear among and shatter the souls of his enemies. A year after his Knesset victory in 1984, professional assassins linked to his organization were roaming America. Not surprisingly, the FBI discovered that the terrorists' tracks led to the ultranationalist West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, "a haven for right-wing Jewish extremists," according to a Justice Department document.

Five years after Odeh's murder, the FBI has amassed an impressive body of physical evidence and identified three American Jewish members of the JDL now living in Israel as the prime suspects. The agency has accomplished this--no thanks to Israel. Tel Aviv has obstructed the U.S. government's investigation, according to FBI documents and Justice Department officials. Any attempt to extradite the suspects, the officials fear, would be met in Israel by a firestorm of protest from right-wing legislators.

Even before Odeh, the FBI had set up a special anti-terrorism task force to investigate the JDL. Within hours of the bombing of Odeh's office in Santa Ana, the FBI, Treasury agents and members of the Los Angeles Anti-Terrorism Task Force and the Santa Ana Police Department were looking for clues. "The names of (JDL member Keith) Fuchs, (Andy) Green and (Robert) Manning were mentioned as the bombers while we were still in front of the bombed-out building," said a California police official, who requested anonymity.

The FBI was impressed by the sophistication of the pipe bomb--a trip-wire device rigged inside Odeh's office door. "A timer on the bomb gave the terrorists one minute to set the device and close the door," said the police official.

The device, according to the FBI, was similar to one used in the Aug. 15, 1985, bombing of Tscherim Scobzokov, a member of the Nazi Waffen SS. He was killed when he opened the front door of his Paterson, N.J., home. On Sept. 6, 1985, a pipe bomb placed on the front steps of Elmars Sprogis' Brentwood, N.Y., home blew the legs off a passer-by. "Characteristics that were similar in the three bombings indicate either the bomb-makers had the same teacher or the same group or person did it," said former FBI official Thomas L. Sheer, who headed the Joint FBI/NYPD Task Force on Terrorism. "Each bomb has a signature," he explained.

In the five years since the JDL bombings, grand juries in Brooklyn and Los Angeles have heard evidence that links Green, Fuchs and Manning to the attacks. Manning now lives in a suburb of Kiryat Arba, where he works as a sometime bodyguard and appliance repairman. Fuchs is reportedly studying at a West Bank yeshiva. Green runs a Jerusalem-based private-car service.

Each has a bloody history of JDL violence and a fanatical allegiance to Kahane: On May 12, 1980, Green and Kahane were imprisoned for six months for allegedly plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem. In 1973, Manning was convicted of bombing the Los Angeles home of Mohammed Shaath, who the JDL alleged was a Palestinian terrorist. In 1983, Fuchs was sentenced to 39 months in an Israeli prison for standing in the middle of a West Bank highway and drilling a passing Arab car with an AK-47. He later said he did a tova (Hebrew for an act of kindness) by not killing the Arab driver.

The biggest break in the JDL bombing cases came on June 22, 1988, when Manning's wife, Rochelle, was arrested in Los Angeles as she disembarked from a plane arriving from Israel. She was charged with conspiracy in the 1980 mail-bomb slaying of Patricia Wilkerson. Fingerprints of both Mannings were found on the cardboard box containing the bomb, according to court documents. It was addressed to Brenda Crouthamel.

Disguised as a new invention, the bomb exploded when Wilkerson, Crouthamel's secretary, plugged the device into a wall socket. The trial ended in a hung jury, but Robert Manning was subsequently indicted for Wilkerson's murder. The Justice Department is seeking his extradition. His New York lawyer, Samuel Abady, said that Rochelle's arrest and trial were nothing more than an attempt by the government to lure him to the United States to face charges for terrorist bombings the FBI attributes to the JDL.

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