El Al bomb plotter could be released early

AP News
Posted: Apr 19, 2011 4:37 PM
El Al bomb plotter could be released early

An Arab terrorist jailed for duping his pregnant fiance into trying to sneak a bomb aboard an Israeli jumbo jet could be released early following a British court's ruling Tuesday.

Nazir Hindawi's 1986 attempt to bring down an El Al flight between London and Tel Aviv horrified Britons and led to the breakdown of relations between Britain and Syria, which Western officials blamed for organizing the plot. Hindawi received an usually stiff 45-year-long sentence for the crime, but he became eligible for parole in 2001 and has been lobbying for an early release since.

On Tuesday, London's High Court ruled that a parole board should have the final say over the 56-year-old Hindawi, effectively bypassing British ministers who have repeatedly blocked attempts to free him. Although the parole board's decision has yet to be made, a previous such board recommended that Hindawi be released from prison and any newly constituted one could rule the same way.

The Ministry of Justice said it would refer Hindawi's case to a parole board immediately, although no specific time was offered.

The case has long stood out as particularly heinous example of international terrorism.

A one-time journalist for a London-based Arab publication, Hindawi tricked his pregnant girlfriend, an Irish chambermaid named Anne-Marie Murphy, into traveling to Israel, where he claimed the pair were to marry.

Hidden in her suitcase were 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of plastic explosives and a timer set to go off while the plane was in flight. Had the plot been successful, Murphy would have been among its 375 potential victims.

In the end Murphy's bag was searched, the explosives were found, and Hindawi was arrested, tried, and convicted. Britain severed its ties with Syria following the trial, alleging that Damascus had orchestrated the foiled attack. Syria has denied any involvnment.

Israelis, meanwhile, tightened their security procedures, and even today it isn't unusual for Israeli airline security guards to ask extremely personal questions, especially to women traveling alone.

British officials promised after the sentencing that Hindawi would spend at least three decades behind bars.

Terrorists "can expect no mercy from our courts," Judge William Mars-Jones said at the time.

But changes to British law in the 1990s meant that Hindawi was allowed to apply for parole earlier, and in October 2009 a parole board recommended his release. Britain's then-Justice Secretary Jack Straw overruled the decision, but that was subsequently overturned on appeal.

What would happen to Hindawi if were released is not clear. His citizenship has variously been given as Syrian or Jordanian, and the Ministry of Justice could not immediately say which was the case. Court documents indicate he could be deported to Jordan if he were freed.