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On the morning of 17 April 1986, at Heathrow Airport in London, Israeli security guards working for El Al airlines found 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb) of Semtex explosives in the bag of Anne-Marie Murphy, a five-month pregnant Irishwoman attempting to fly on a flight with 375 fellow passengers to Tel Aviv. In addition, a functioning calculator in the bag was found to be a timed triggering device. She claimed to be unaware of the contents, and that she had been given the bag by her fiancé, Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian. Murphy maintained that Hindawi had sent her on the flight for the purpose of meeting his parents before marriage. A manhunt ensued, resulting in Hindawi's arrest the following day after he surrendered to police. Hindawi was found guilty by a British court in the Old Bailey and received 45 years imprisonment, believed to be the longest determinate, or fixed, criminal sentence in British history (see also life sentence).
Hindawi subsequently appealed against the sentence of 45 years. His appeal was rejected by the Lord Chief Justice who noted that "Put briefly, this was about as foul and as horrible a crime as could possibly be imagined. It is no thanks to this applicant that his plot did not succeed in destroying 360 or 370 lives in the effort to promote one side of a political dispute by terrorism. In the judgment of this Court the sentence of 45 years' imprisonment was not a day too long. This application is refused."
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When Murphy met Hindawi in 1984, she was working as a chambermaid at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane in London. When she became pregnant with his child, Hindawi convinced her that they should go to Israel to get married. He also insisted that she should go on ahead since, as an Arab, it would take longer for him to obtain a visa. Unbeknownst to Murphy, he intended her to take an explosives-laden bag on board an El Al flight from Heathrow Airport to Tel Aviv on 17 April 1986. He escorted her to the airport and instructed her not to mention his name, since Israeli security would interrogate her about their relationship.
Immediately after leaving Murphy at the airport at 8 am, Hindawi returned to London and then boarded the Syrian Arab Airlines bus to return to the airport to catch a 2 pm flight to Damascus. Before the bus set off, however, he heard the news that a bomb had been discovered in Heathrow. He left the bus, went to the Syrian embassy and asked there for assistance.
The ambassador passed him to the embassy security men, who took him to their lodgings, where they tried to change his appearance by cutting and dyeing his hair. For an unknown reason, early the next morning, 18 April, Hindawi fled from the Syrians and gave himself up to the British police.
He was interrogated intensively for a number of days, during which his sleep was interrupted. During his interrogations and later trial he described two conflicting stories leading up to the incident. During the interrogation, Hindawi claimed to have arranged the plot with high-ranking officers in Syrian Air Force intelligence a year earlier in Damascus, where he was given Syrian papers and instructions for operating the explosives. He supposedly conducted a training run back in England before returning again to Syria for final details and preparation. As for the explosives themselves, Hindawi said that they were delivered to him in the Royal Garden Hotel in London on 5 April, less than two weeks prior to the attempted bombing. This story is supported by the fact that Hindawi first sought refuge in the Syrian embassy after he had learned of the failed bombing, and that Syrian officials were in the process of altering his appearance before he fled again. Also, British intelligence had previously intercepted Syrian communications with Hindawi's name, Hindawi was using genuine Syrian documents although he was not Syrian, and Hindawi's original escape plan involved leaving England with Syrian agents working on Syrian Arab Airlines. Hindawi's confession during the interrogation was the basis for the prosecution case.
During the trial Hindawi retracted his confession and claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy, probably by Israeli agents. He claimed that the police forced him to sign the statements attributed to him unread, threatened to hand him over to the Mossad and told him that his parents were also arrested in London.
In attempting to construct a credible defence for his client, Hindawi's legal counsel proposed an alternative interpretation of events during the trial, suggesting that Hindawi was being manipulated by Israeli intelligence, which wished to damage and embarrass the Syrian government. The jury was unconvinced by this version of events, and subsequent appeal judges have dismissed such interpretations as entirely lacking in evidence.
After the court found Hindawi guilty, the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher broke off diplomatic relations with Syria. Following this the United States and Canada recalled their ambassadors from Syria. The European Community also imposed minor sanctions.
Allegations of Mossad involvement
On 10 November 1986, the then French prime minister Jacques Chirac said in interview with the Washington Times, that German chancellor Kohl and foreign minister Genscher both believed that "the Hindawi plot was a provocation designed to embarrass Syria and destabilize the Assad regime ... 'by' ... people probably connected to Israeli Mossad". Chirac added that he tended to believe it himself. But a few days after, Jacques Chirac said to Pierre Beregovoy during French National Assembly debates, that Israel was innocent.
According to Seale, sources in Syrian intelligence told him that they "had fallen in to Israeli trap" and were penetrated and manipulated by Mossad to smear Syria with terrorism and isolate it internationally. Colonel Mufid Akkur, whom Hindawi named in court, was arrested in Damascus on suspicion of working for Israel.
Speculation of Mossad involvement is however contradicted by considerable evidence of Syrian sponsorship, including Hindawi's statements on interrogation, correspondence intercepted by the authorities after his arrest, the testimony of other captured terrorists, and the support provided by Syrian Arab Airlines. The Syrian government's claim that the Mossad replaced originally innocent luggage with the bomb is refuted by the discovery of hair belonging to Hindawi trapped under the tape used to attach the explosive to the bag.[a]
Hindawi must be released on parole no later than 2016. In 2012, the parole board reversed its previous decision to free Hindawi. A Parole Board spokesman refused to comment on the case but said: "The only legal question which the parole review has to answer is the risk of a further offence occurring during the parole window, weighed against the benefits to the prisoner and public of a longer period of testing on parole. Risk is the overriding factor."
In March 2013, Hindawi was granted parole, but remained imprisoned pending deportation to Jordan.
- The 1988 novel Special Deception by Alexander Fullerton uses the Hindawi trial as the background to a Soviet plot to stage an atrocity in Syria which will be blamed on the British government.
- Simon, one of the main characters in Atom Egoyan's 2008 film Adoration, claims that his father planted a bomb in his pregnant wife's luggage before she flew to Israel.
- Playwright Lucile Lichtblau won a 2011 Susan Glaspell Award for her work, "The English Bride" inspired by the Hindawi affair. The play features a Mossad officer who unravels the story of a woman named Eileen Finney and the Arab man with whom she has fallen in love. A production directed by Carl Wallnau runs at 59E59 Theaters in the Autumn of 2013.
- Originally published in The National Interest, Spring 1989.
- Booth, Jenny (13 October 2004). "El Al bomber too dangerous to release, court rules". London: Times Online. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- Higgins, Rosalyn; Flory, Maurice (1997). Terrorism and International Law. Routledge. pp. 336–337. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
- Wadler, Joyce (October 1986). "With the Promise of Happiness, She Became a Bomber's Pawn". People Magazine. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- (Seale 1993, p. 249)
- President's Commission on Aviation Safety and Terrorism (1990-05-15). "Report of the President's Commission on Aviation Safety and Terrorism" (PDF). Executive Order 12686. US Governmant Printing Office. p. 8. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
- (Seale 1993, pp. 250–252)
- Pipes, Daniel. "Terrorism: The Syrian Connection". danielpipes.org. Retrieved October 2013. Check date values in:
- Managh, Ray; Heffernan, Breda (24 December 2011). "Former fiancee of bomb-plot terrorist in defamation claim". Independent.ie. Retrieved 11 September 2012.
- Gardham, Duncan (6 January 2012). "'Most dangerous' terrorist Nezar Hindawi to remain in jail". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
- Ford, Richard (28 March 2013). "Plane plot bomber Nezar Hindawi released on parole". The Times.
- Fullerton, Alexander (1988). Special Deception. Sphere. ISBN 0-7474-0331-7.
- "The English Bride -at 59e59". The New York Times. Retrieved November 2013. Check date values in:
- Seale, Patrick. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988. ISBN 0-520-06976-5, 475–482 p.
- Searle, Patrick (1993). Abu Nidal: A gun for hire. Arrow. ISBN 0-09-922571-9.
- Black, Ian. Morris, Benny. Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services. New York: Grove Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8021-1159-9, 433–437 p.
- "Terrorism: The Syrian Connection" by Daniel Pipes, originally published in The National Interest, Spring 1989.