An Athens court yesterday (Tuesday) indefinitely postponed the trial of two Arab commandos charged with machine-gunning an EL AL Boeing airliner in December, 1968, because of the absence of keywitnesses.
EXTERIOR..Court building; INTERIOR..accused with Defence Counsel; police accused pressmen; Lebanon official widow of victim.
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Background: An Athens court yesterday (Tuesday) indefinitely postponed the trial of two Arab commandos charged with machine-gunning an EL AL Boeing airliner in December, 1968, because of the absence of keywitnesses. The two men -- 26-year-old teacher Mahmoud Mohamad, and 20-year-old student Maher Hussein Suleiman -- appeared in court to face seven charges, including one of wilful manslaughter, carrying a possible death sentence.
An Israeli passenger was killed and an air hostess injured when the EL AL Boeing 707 was sprayed with bullets as it stood on the tarmac minutes before take-off for New York on December 26th, 1968.
After a brief opening session, Judge Constantinos Pantazoulos, President of the Court, announced the indefinite postponement because of the absence of 12 key-witnesses -- including three military experts, one police officer eyewitness in the attack, and three Arab defence witnesses. The demand for the postponement was made by the public prosecutor, supported by defence counsel. Reports in Athens said the postponement followed approaches to the Greek Government by Arab diplomats who wanned that a full-scale trial might harm Greek relations with Arab countries, particularly with Egypt, where there is a sizeable Greek community. There were elaborate security precautions at the trial.
A number of Arab diplomats were in court for the opening session of the trial, including a Lebanon Embassy official. The widow of the Israeli passenger, 50-year-old engineer Leon Sheridan, was also in court. Her counsel urged that the trial should proceed.
Defence lawyers claimed in court that the case had political implications, since they acted under orders of a resistance organisation -- the Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine -- and so they should be treated as prisoners of war.
Five more Arab commandos are being held in Greek prisons pending trial for acts of sabotage against Israel carried cut on Greek soil.