Washington — A militant Jewish group is threatening to sue the Federal Bureau of Investigation over FBI statements that the group is a suspect in a series of recent terrorist bombings in the United States. The threat came in a telegram sent Tuesday night to FBI Director William Webster on behalf of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in Los Angeles. An FBI spokesman had no comment.
Gary B. Fleischman, a lawyer retained by the JDL, said the organization is asking the FBI to retract statements made last week identifying the JDL as ``the possible responsible group'' for three bombings in August and September against an American-Arab leader in California and two men in New Jersey and New York alleged to have been Nazi collaborators during World War II. Two of the bombings resulted in deaths.
There have been no arrests in the cases.
JDL leader Irv Rubin has denied his group carried out the bombings. But he has been quoted as saying about one of the bomb victims: ``He got exactly what he deserved.''
The JDL was founded as a vigilante group to fight those it deems to be anti-Semites and to ensure that crimes against the Jewish people do not go unanswered. JDL has been condemned by all major US Jewish groups. Rubin recently succeeded Meir Kahane as head of the JDL. Mr. Kahane, a controversial member of the Israeli Knesset, holds openly racist views regarding Arabs.
In an unusual twist, Mr. Fleischman has himself been the target of harassment and threats that he suspects were the work of the JDL. On one occasion, he says, someone even called a local mortuary and made arrangements for Fleischman's funeral. When the hearse arrived at his apartment building, the driver innocently announced to a receptionist that he was there ``to pick up the Fleischman body.''
In a telephone interview, Fleischman said he was apparently singled out for harassment by the JDL earlier this year because he was a Jewish lawyer defending an alleged Nazi collaborator. He said the JDL apparently changed its mind about the case and his client. He said the change came after the Yugoslav government refused to extradite Mohamed Abbas, alleged mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking. Abbas is the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, a radical splinter group of the Palestine Liberati on Organization.
``We have made our peace,'' says Fleischman, referring to himself and his new client. He adds that in his view both the JDL and his alleged-Nazi client ``are being oppressed by the Justice Department.''
Fleischman said the suit, if filed, would allege the FBI libeled the JDL by saying it was a suspect in the terrorist bombings. He added that the group will also contend that the FBI sought to discredit the JDL and undermine its fund-raising.
Published reports have also identified the Jewish Defense Organization, described as an offshoot of the JDL, as a possible suspect in some of the bombings. The FBI has not mentioned that group.
The three bombings increased to five the total number of terrorist attacks in the US this year, according to law enforcement officials.
Each of the three bombings was carried out with pipe-bomb booby traps attached to doors, with the bombs set to explode when the doors were opened.
According to sources in the Soviet 'emigr'e community, FBI agents have been warning defendants in Nazi-collaborator trials to take special precautions.
``They thought this may be a pattern likely to repeat,'' said an individual who has been contacted by the FBI and who asked not to be identified. ``If there is a pattern, it is that if the courts don't get us -- they will. That seems to be the hidden message in those bombings.''
On Aug. 15 at 4:29 a.m. Tscherim Soobzokov was fatally injured by a pipe bomb when he stepped outside his Paterson, N.J., home after being awakened and told that his car was on fire. In 1980, Mr. Soobzokov had successfully defended himself in a lawsuit alleging he concealed his past as a member of the Nazi Waffen SS in order to immigrate the US. Soobzokov was able to prove through CIA documents that he had never tried to hide his wartime service.
The day after the Soobzokov bombing, a 12-inch pipe bomb was found outside the Roxbury, Mass., office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. A police officer was injured while trying to remove the bomb.
On Sept. 6, at 4 a.m. a passerby was injured at the Long Island home of Elmars Sprogis, a 69-year-old former Latvian policeman who had successfully defended himself against allegations that he was a Nazi collaborator during World War II. The passerby was injured after he spotted a fire at the Sprogis house and tried to open the front door to help evacuate the family.
Later that morning, a local newspaper received a telephone call with what sounded like a recorded message: ``Listen carefully. Jewish Defense League. Nazi war criminal. Bomb. Never again.''
``Never again,'' is the slogan of the JDL. It refers to the Holocaust, the Nazi's genocidal program against Jews and other minorities during the war.
JDL officials in New York denied any role in the Sprogis bombing but called it ``a brave and noble act.''
The most recent bombing occurred in Santa Anna, Calif., on Oct. 11 when Alex Odeh, director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, opened the door of his office.
The 41-year-old father of three, was killed and seven others were injured in the blast.