PARIS: The suspected mastermind of a deadly bomb attack on a Jewish restaurant in Paris in 1982 has been arrested in Jordan, French prosecutors said yesterday (Wednesday).
Mohamed Souhair al-Abassi, known as Amjad Atta, was arrested on June 1 in connection with the attack on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant in which six people were killed and 22 injured.
A Jordanian court has since released him on bail and imposed a travel ban while it examines a French extradition request. In March Marc Trevidic, a French investigating magistrate, issued international arrest warrants for Abassi, 62, and two other Palestinians living in Oslo and Ramallah, in the West Bank. All three are former members of the Abu Nidal Organisation, a splinter group of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The suspects were identified 32 years after the attacks following statements from two other former members of the Abu Nidal group to whom French judges guaranteed anonymity.
Abassi is suspected of having organised and helped with logistics for the attack. At midday on Aug 9, 1982, assailants threw a grenade into the bustling restaurant in the central Marais district, a largely Jewish neighbourhood.
Two men then entered the restaurant and sprayed the 50 or so diners with machine-gun fire. They then shot at passers-by as they ran down the street. The other men being sought by France are identified as Walid Abdulrahman, 56, based in Norway, and Mahmoud Khader Abed, 59, living in Ramallah.
According to Paris Match magazine, Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian president, backed the operation because he wanted to punish France for helping his enemy, Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, to evacuate his Beirut headquarters after being encircled by Israeli forces.
Mr Trevidic has been investigating the case for seven years with help from members of French intelligence. Earlier this year, he reportedly told victims' families: "In all likelihood, there will be a trial." Abassi is considered the third in command of a so-called "special operations committee" of the Fatah-Revolutionary Council led by Abou Nizar, Abou Nidal's right-hand man.
Martine Bouccara, the lawyer for the son of Andre Hezkia, one of the victims of the attack, welcomed the arrest. "This new judicial step heartens the civil plaintiffs as we are finally approaching a trial," she said.
David Pere, the lawyer for AFVT, the French terror victims' association, said: "The victims are delighted with this major progress because it means someone will actually be in the dock during the trial."
But he added: "It underlines the inaction of the two other countries in which the other two suspects reside, namely the Palestinian Authority and Norway."
According to Mr Pere, Norway has failed to respond to French extradition requests. "We deplore this silence," he said. Mr Abdulrahman's lawyer, Ole-Martin Meland, denied in March that he was involved in the attack.
The investigation had for years failed to make headway bar the discovery of one of the weapons used in the attack in the Bois de Boulogne wood outside Paris.
The development is the second in a year regarding anti-Semitic attacks of that period. Last November, Hassan Diab, an academic of Lebanese origin, was charged in France with murder for bombing a Paris synagogue in 1980. Four people died and dozens were injured.
It comes as France is grappling with rising anti-Semitism. Amedy Coulibaly, an Islamist gunman, killed four people at a Kosher supermarket in Paris in January.