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Evidence emerges in '85 Santa Ana slaying

Officials say the findings shed new light on bomb plot that killed Arab American Alex Odeh.

October 11, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Federal and local authorities have uncovered new evidence in the bombing that killed a prominent Arab American civil rights leader in Santa Ana 22 years ago today, in one of the first acts of modern-day terrorism in the United States.

The undisclosed evidence, including statements from a now-deceased informant, is not expected to immediately solve the slaying of Alex Odeh, but law enforcement officials familiar with the long-running investigation said the information provided new details about how the attack on the onetime Western regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was planned and carried out.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the evidence developed in recent months by the FBI and Los Angeles Police Department in a Joint Terrorism Task Force could help investigators eventually bring charges in the case.

"It just adds more pieces to a puzzle that we have been trying to put together for years," one source said.

On Wednesday, Odeh's brother, Sami, said he was cautiously optimistic that the newly disclosed evidence would finally help solve the killing.

Contacted shortly after he had his first face-to-face meeting with case agents in about two years, Sami Odeh said: "They seemed to be optimistic [about the new evidence], and my reading of that is that it might be significant new information."

Alex Odeh, 41, was killed and seven people were injured Oct. 11, 1985, when a bomb exploded as he opened the door to the committee's Santa Ana office.

The attack occurred 12 hours after Odeh appeared on a local television broadcast and criticized the news media for linking the Palestine Liberation Organization to the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.

Within days of Odeh's death, the FBI said it believed the militant Jewish Defense League was behind the attack as well as two other bombings months earlier on the East Coast.

The link, authorities said at the time, involved the explosive devices used in all three incidents.

The JDL was founded in 1968 by Meir Kahane, a Brooklyn rabbi who moved to Israel in 1970 and founded the Kach Party, which called for forcibly removing all Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories. He was assassinated in New York in 1990 by an Arab extremist.

After the FBI's comments about the JDL and the Odeh investigation, JDL leader Irv Rubin called the alleged link "absurd, obscene and outrageous" and accused the FBI of slander.

But even as the bureau later softened its public comments linking the JDL to the attack, its investigation continued to center on the possibility that members of the organization knew more than they were admitting about who had planned and carried out the attacks.

Over the years, in fact, the FBI focused on several onetime JDL members in its investigation of Odeh's death.

In 2005, former JDL member Earl Krugel was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for plotting to bomb a Culver City mosque and the field office of U.S. Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Vista), who is an Arab American. Rubin was also charged in the bomb plot.

As part of a plea agreement, Krugel promised to help federal authorities in the Odeh investigation and was said to have provided the names of several people mentioned by JDL leader Rubin as being involved in the bomb plot.

One source close to the probe told The Times in 2005 that three of the people were former JDL members Keith Fuchs, Andy Green and Robert Manning, all of whom had been publicly identified as possible suspects in the case as far back as 1988.

Fuchs and Green are believed to be living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Manning is serving a life prison term in California for the 1980 letter bomb slaying of Patricia Wilkerson, a Manhattan Beach secretary who was killed when she opened a package intended for her boss, who prosecutors said was having a business dispute with a JDL member.

Less than two months after he was sentenced to prison in Phoenix, Krugel was slain by a fellow prisoner. Former JDL leader Rubin died in November 2002 after leaping from a balcony at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center, where both he and Krugel had been held since their arrest in December 2001. Authorities termed Rubin's death a suicide.

After more than two decades of waiting for the crime to result in charges, Sami Odeh said he tried not to think about the possibility that his brother's killers will never be identified.

"I have been waiting so long for this crime to be solved," he said, noting that Alex Odeh now has five grandchildren "who miss seeing their grandpa."

"We realize that solving this case will not bring him back," Sami Odeh said. "But it will bring us closure."

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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