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Bombing Suspect Returned to U.S. : Extradition: Robert Manning leaves Israel to face trial in the killing of a Manhattan Beach secretary. Officials also believe that he is responsible for the death of an Arab activist.

July 19, 1993|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending extradition proceedings that lasted two years, a former Los Angeles Jewish Defense League activist was put aboard a jetliner in Israel on Sunday to be returned to Southern California to face charges in the 1980 mail-bomb death of a Manhattan Beach secretary.

Federal authorities have also called Robert Steven Manning, 41, a suspect in a 1985 bombing in Santa Ana that killed Alex M. Odeh, executive director of the Southern California branch of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. But under terms of the extradition agreement, Manning cannot be tried for that crime.

Manning, a Fairfax High School dropout with dual American-Israeli citizenship, was defiant Sunday as he boarded the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport, handcuffed to one FBI agent and trailed by another.

"I did not do anything!" Manning shouted in Hebrew to reporters. He fought extradition by saying he is an observant, Orthodox Jew being persecuted by foreign authorities. On Sunday, he wore a yarmulke and a small white prayer shawl and carried a leather-bound prayer book.

Last Tuesday, Manning tried to avert extradition by taking 20 sleeping pills and claiming heart trouble. TWA refused to transport him until he had recovered from the overdose. He was accompanied Sunday by a police medic.

Although Manning's flight was scheduled to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday evening, the airline and the FBI office in Los Angeles said they could not confirm his arrival.

Manning is accused of sending a booby-trapped device to a Manhattan Beach computer firm, killing Patricia Wilkerson, 32, when she followed instructions on the package and plugged the device into a wall outlet.

Authorities said Manning's fingerprints were found on the parcel. His wife's fingerprints were found on a letter that accompanied it.

In 1989, a federal jury in Los Angeles deadlocked in the trial of Rochelle Manning and millionaire West Los Angeles real estate broker William Ross, also charged in connection with the bombing. The panel was split 6 to 6 on the charges against Ross but was leaning 10 to 2 for the conviction of Rochelle Manning, who had been arrested during a 1988 visit to the United States.

Rochelle Manning, 53, returned to Israel, and U.S. authorities are seeking her extradition for a retrial. That matter is pending in Israeli courts.

Testimony in the Wilkerson killing indicated that the attack stemmed from a business dispute. But authorities also consider Robert Manning a suspect in four political bombings in 1985, including the one that killed Odeh.

One attack killed a suspected Nazi in Paterson, N.J.; another bomb exploded outside the home of a suspected Nazi in Brentwood, N.Y., and a third injured two police officers trying to defuse a bomb sent to an Arab-American group in Boston.

Manning, who was convicted in a 1972 bombing at the home of an Arab activist in Hollywood, has claimed that he has long been the target of harassment by the FBI and U.S. postal inspectors. Israeli supporters said Sunday that Manning was willing to be tried in Israel for the Wilkerson killing and denounced his extradition to the United States.

"Extraditing a Jew, a citizen of Israel, throwing him out of his homeland, is certainly a disgrace to the independent state of Israel," said Rabbi Eliezer Waldman of Kiryat Arba, a West Bank Jewish settlement where Manning lived for a decade.

In Los Angeles, Arab-American leaders lauded Manning's return and expressed hope that he would be questioned and, if merited, tried for the Odeh killing.

"I'm delighted he is here," said Sami Odeh, Odeh's brother. "We've had conflicting legal advice on whether it might still be possible to prosecute him, if he does appear guilty, for my brother's murder."

Times staff writer Michael Parks in Jerusalem contributed to this story.

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