Former senator says anti-Arab violence in US ignored. Arab-American leader accuses FBI of foot-dragging on recent bombings
Washington — The leader of an Arab-American group is worried that US law enforcement officials are dragging their feet in investigating a series of terrorist bombings and threats targeting Americans of Arab heritage. James G. Abourezk, national chairman of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), is expected to press for a more-active investigation of the recent bombings in his meeting today with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director William Webster.
The former senator from South Dakota, who is of Lebanese descent, will also discuss what he says is ``circumstantial evidence'' he has gathered that links several of the attacks with other ``incidents of violence around the United States.''
``We want to make sure that law enforcement agencies are committing substantial resources to solving the crimes rather than just kissing it off as: `It's just those Arabs getting it so we don't have to worry about it,' '' Mr. Abourezk says.
On Oct. 11, ADC regional director Alex Odeh was killed in Santa Anna, Calif., by a bomb apparently rigged to detonate when the ADC office door was opened. Two months earlier a similar bomb was found outside the ADC's regional office near Boston.
Last Friday, the ADC office in Washington was heavily damaged in a suspicious fire.
In addition, at least two other similar bombings have occurred in recent months, in New Jersey and New York. Both bombings -- one of which was fatal -- were apparently aimed at persons, unconnected to the ADC, who had once been accused of having been Nazi collaborators during World War II.
The FBI has said the militant Jewish Defense League (JDL) is a prime suspect in the bombings, but there have been no arrests.
Abourezk says the information he has gathered indicates someone else may be behind some of the bombings. ``The evidence I have doesn't point to the JDL,'' he says. But he adds, ``Don't make the mistake of saying that I am absolving [the JDL]. I can't. What I'm saying is what I have just points in a different direction.''
Abourezk declined to name the person or persons he suspects.
He thinks the bombings, threats, and harassment aimed at the ADC are an orchestrated effort to ``intimidate us into silence.'' He says the group is being targeted because of its success in challenging US policies toward Israel and in promoting a balanced view of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
``We are opposed to violence. I am personally a pacifist,'' Abourezk says. ``The organization, as a policy, is opposed to violence by anybody.'' He adds, ``We disapprove of any violence by the PLO.''
``Israel introduced terrorism into the Middle East; now some of their supporters are introducing it into the United States,'' Abourezk says.
He notes that the intimidation is not working. ``How can you intimidate a nationwide organization of 15,000 people into silence? It just can't happen. You can't kill all 15,000.''
Equally distressing to Abourezk is what he sees as American indifference to the bombings. He says that terrorist acts in the US, when carried out against American-Arabs, inevitably receive less press coverage than such acts carried out against Americans overseas.
``If you notice the press coverage of the Odeh killing and the Klinghoffer killing, which occurred about the same time, the whole impression was: This [the Odeh murder] was because Arabs speak out in favor of the PLO. Therefore, if you are not an Arab and are not in favor of the PLO, you don't have to worry about these guys, so let it go,'' Abourezk says.
``Whereas, the Klinghoffer killing was a random selection by PLO fanatics who randomly selected any Americans -- so it could happen to anybody. That was the sense of the press coverage,'' he says.
He adds, ``If you ask people today who Alex Odeh was or who Leon Klinghoffer was, everybody in the country knows all about Klinghoffer . . . but if you ask them who Alex Odeh was, they don't know anything about him.''
``We really are the last ethnic group in this country that can be attacked, denounced, defamed, ridiculed without anybody really raising an outcry,'' Abourezk observes. ``There was just not a lot of outcry on Alex's death and what there was came a month late. And it came in editorial columns or little magazines that nobody reads.''
On the Odeh bombing itself, Abourezk says he doubts that Odeh's interview on a television news show the night before actually triggered the bombing.
During the television interview, Odeh defended PLO chief Yasser Arafat as a man of peace. He also denounced the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, but that section of the interview was not aired.
``You can't really lay the motive for the bombing on that television interview. These bombings aren't planned overnight,'' Abourezk says. ``If you are a bomber, you watch peoples' movements. You find out what their habits are. And the habit of that office was that the secretary would open the office in the morning and Alex would come in later. That morning she was out running some errands. He opened the office. It could just as well have been her. They weren't after anyone in particular, they were after
somebody from ADC -- anybody.''
Abourezk also feels the Odeh bombing was timed to minimize press coverage. ``It was done at a time when things were very confused in the press. The Achille Lauro thing was going on. It was designed, deliberately I think, to minimize the publicity on the killing of Odeh. And it was successful simply because whoever planned it that way read the American press accurately.''