Justice Denied: Ten years inside, the "bombers" who never were.
HAPPIER DAYS. Samar Alami on graduation (right), and Jawad Botmeh (below). Sentenced to 20 years on circumstantial evidence in December 1996.
Despite appeals and petitions they remain imprisoned, Despite being caught out lying, the security services continue suppressing evidence.
LAST week saw the tenth anniversary pass by of the imprisonment of two Palestinians on "conspiracy" charges arising from the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London on July 26, 1994 and of the Zionist Federation's Balfour House headquarters, in Finchley, north London, some twelve hours later.
Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh have both denied involvment in either of the bombings, and in fact neither of them were caught near the targetted premises, nor did any forensic evidence link them with the explosions.
Hence the charge of "conspiracy" which supposes they were somehow involved with others in the bombings.
But these others -including whoever actually delivered the bombs -have not been found. Nor have the police apparently made any effort to trace a third person whom the two identified and described, a possible suspect by the name of Rida Mughrabi.
In fact, the British security services have been less than transparent throughout this case. They initially claimed that the embassy bombing took them by surprise, although MI5 defector David Shayler revealed they had been given advance warning. They appear to have ignored claims from an Iranian defector that London was next after bombings perpetrated in Buenos Aires. They have used secret hearings and Public Interest Immunity certificates to conceal large amounts of evidence, and they have gone out of their way to discourage witnesses from appearing with other evidence that might spoil or complicate their case.
ANYBODY who has been to, or near, the Israeli embassy in London will know that it is on Kensington Palace Green, a private road of embassies and exclusive residences with gates at each end, patrolled by armed police. Demonstrators are not even allowed near the gates, and traffic is monitored of course.
On the afternoon of 26 July 1994 a woman drove an Audi car into the road, and parked outside the Israeli embassy. She asked PC Duncan, the armed officer of the Diplomatic Protection Group, to let her leave it while she went for some cigarettes.
Soon after she had gone the car exploded. The explosion caused extensive damage, and injured fourteen people, but fortunately nobody was killed.
According to the Israeli embassy, their security cameras on either side of the building had no film that day, so there is no visual record of what happened or who was there. The only description of the woman driver is that she was middle aged, of Middle Eastern appearance, and carrying a Harrods shopping bag; and that she was not Samar Alami.
When Samar Alami was questioned a year later she could not remember off hand where she had been that afternoon, not having thought she would need an alibi. It was ascertained that she had been in the library at Imperial College, of which she is an M.Sc graduate, and had made a phone call from there to a relative which was recorded. Jawad Botmeh had been in Sussex, taking a younger family member to see a language school.
There were no witnesses to the bombing at Balfour House. However, the day before, a woman who lives nearby became concerned about some men whom she described as looking of Middle East origin, sitting in two cars outside the building. They were blocking her drive, so she asked them to move. They went away, but she reported the incident, and did so again after the explosion. The cars and these men were not traced. In fact, a police presence on Balfour House that day was removed, an hour before the explosion. Again, nobody was killed, but the building was damaged and six people were hurt.
Both of these bombs exploded without leaving any traces behind. Nothing is known about what explosive was used or how the explosions were triggered. As the judge said, "We do not know what the explosive was...There were no residues, and that indicated a high performance explosive. There was no trace of any timing or remote control device or of any detonator or other initiating process."
Letters claiming responsibility for the bombings, written in Arabic, were posted on the afternoon of 26 July to the London offices of two Arab newspapers, Al-Quds and Al-Hayat, and to the London offices of the PLO. These letters were signed by the 'Jaffa Unit' or 'Jaffa Team' of the 'Palestinian Resistance', an unknown organisation that has never been heard from before or since.
Both Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh were known Palestinian political and social activists, and both hoped to use their training and skills to help their people back home. Samar, whose MSc was in water resource engineering, had worked as an environmental engineering consultant and part-time as a health adviser for the immigrant Arab community in Newham in east London. She was a prominent member of the Palestinian Women's Group and the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) in the UK, and had lectured on Palestinian culture, helping with her sister Randa to organise an exhibition of Palestinian costume and embroidery at the Museum of Mankind.
Jawad, born in Bethlehem, where he and his family had directly expereienced the brutality of occupation, was on the national executive of the General Union of Palestinian Students, and organised conferences and seminars for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Jawad was also involved with the National Union of Students, having been vice-president of Leicester University's students union, and sometimes acted as 'peacemaker' when there was tension between Arab and Israeli students.
Like many people at the time, and even more with the benefit of hindsight since, Samar and Jawad were not happy with the Oslo agreements, feeling the PLO leaders, negotiating behind the backs of the people, had conceded too much to Israel, with too little to show in return. Leaning politically towards the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, they hoped to work constructively -as indicated by Samar's specialising in water resources - but sensing this was not yet freedom, that people's armed resistance might still be needed, they tried some amateurish experiments with explosive devices that might be useful to the people back home.
They did not intend carrying out bombings in Britain, says Jawad, or they would not have devoted their time to open political work. They considered the London bombings detrimental to their cause.
No known Palestinian opposition group nor any Muslim organisation in Lebanon accepted responsibility for the London bombings. The language and ideas in the letter claiming them were not those of the defendants. Neither the letters nor the envelopes contained the defendants' fingerprints. As the judge summed up, "There is nothing in the type to link [the claim letters] to any of the defendants nor, indeed, in the paper or copying or anything."
Although the prosecution naturally used the defendents' contact with explosive materials to present them as violent people, it had to admit that they had not possessed the kind of sophisticated explosives used in the bombings, which were of a kind only governments and state-backed terrorist organisations would have been able to obtain. Yet the security services continued to dismiss suggestions that any such forces were behind the bombings.
As for the mysterious Rida Mughrabi, who had asked Samar to look after some boxes of chemicals for him a month before the attacks, and got Jawad to go with him to some car auctions - where the Audi was purchased that was used at the embassy - not only was he nowhere to be found; the police appeared to have no interest in finding him. We'll have a look at this character next.
For the full background on this case and efforts to obtain justice and free Samar and Jawad, see http://www.freesaj.org.uk/