SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Australian counter-terror agents have reopened an investigation into the bombings of the Israeli Consulate and a Jewish social club in Sydney 30 years ago.
Police confirmed Saturday that members of a special strike force called “Operation Forbearance,” established to investigate the two bombings on Dec. 23, 1982, have interviewed a prime suspect in an American jail.
In the first Australian counter-terror cold case ever to be reopened, detectives traveled in May to interrogate Jordanian-born Palestinian Mohammed Rashid, local media reported.
The 65-year-old is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison in Indiana for the bombing of a Pan Am flight from Japan to Hawaii in August 1982, which killed one passenger and injured 15 others.
Australian detectives believe Rashid, who is scheduled to be released next March, was also behind the bombings of the Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah Club. No one was killed in either bombing, which occurred hours apart, although two people were injured at the consulate. The bomb in the car park underneath the Hakoah Club, a popular Jewish social club in Bondi, was designed to collapse the building, police believe.
Mohammed Ali Beydoun, then a 32-year-old Lebanese-Australian citizen, was charged with the Hakoah bombing but the case never made it to trial, dropped by the New South Wales Attorney-General due to insufficient evidence.
It has long been suspected that the perpetrators were members of the Iraqi-based May 15 terror organization.
Operation Forbearance detectives are now seeking Husayn Muhammad al-Umari – known as Abu Ibrahim or the “bomb man” – who, like Rashid, was at the forefront of the May 15 organization.
He is accused of preparing the bomb on Flight 830 to Hawaii that was planted by Rashid. The FBI is offering a reward of $5 million for information that leads directly to his capture or conviction. He was born in Jaffa and has a Lebanese passport, according to the bureau.
May 15, sometimes known as the Abu-Ibrahim Faction, was a Baghdad-based offshoot of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Founded in 1979, it claimed credit for the bombings of El Al offices in Rome and Istanbul, as well as bombings of Israeli embassies in Vienna and Athens, according to the Encyclopedia of Terrorism.
“We welcome the fact that new evidence seems to have come to light that might help solve this case,” Yair Miller, the president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, told Sydney’s The Sun-Herald newspaper.
Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry who has compiled the annual report on Anti-Semitic incidents in Australia since the late 1980s, told Channel Seven news: “It’s very promising that we now know this matter hasn’t ended.”
Although countless Molotov cocktails and several fire bombs have been launched at synagogues and Jewish community centers in Australia, especially during the first Gulf war and during the second Palestinian intifada, the bombings of the Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah Club in Bondi, just under five hours apart, are believed to be the most serious assault ever on Australia’s Jewish community.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry condemned the 1982 attack on the consulate as “another attempt of Palestinian terror to sabotage the efforts for understanding and peace in the Middle East,” Reuters reported at the time.
The Israeli Consulate was closed about a decade ago during cost-cutting measures by Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and the Hakoah Club, built largely by Jewish businessman and philanthropist Frank Lowy in the 1970s, was recently sold to developers amid financial woes.