Abdallah trial puts France's anti-terror policy to the test
An explosive trial testing France's will to fight terrorism opens today. The accused is Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, the leader of a Lebanese group suspected of terrorizing Paris with a wave of bomb attacks last September. Mr. Abdallah faces three charges: attempted murder of an American diplomat in Strasbourg in 1984, and complicity in the murders of two diplomats - one American, the other Israeli - in Paris in 1982.Skip to next paragraph
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Abdallah's trial puts the French government in a delicate position. If he is convicted, members of his group have threatened to renew bomb attacks in the streets of Paris once again. If Abdallah is acquitted or given a short sentence, the French will be accused of caving in to terrorist blackmail.
``Here we have caught one of the major terrorists of the 1980s,'' one Western diplomat says. ``This is a critical case. It will show how far we are prepared to stick it to terrorists.''
(Separately, French police scored a major anti-terrorist success over the weekend, arresting four leaders of the domestic guerilla group Direct Action. Story, Page 14.)
Traditionally, France has preferred to negotiate with terrorists rather than fight them. Jacques Verg`es, Abdallah's lawyer, said in an interview that the French diplomats struck a bargain back in October 1984 to free Abdallah in return for the release of Gilles Peyroles, a French diplomat kidnapped in Lebanon.
Mr. Peyroles was released. But before Abdallah could be set free, French police raided a Paris apartment, finding a Czechoslovakian-made pistol that was apparently used to kill the American and Israeli diplomats. Abdallah's fingerprints were found nearby. In a decision handed down last July in Lyon, Abdallah was given a four-year sentence for the illegal possession of arms, criminal association, and carrying false papers.
The new trial follows US intervention. The US Embassy complained that the Lyon verdict was too lenient. Later, the widow of slain US diplomat Col. Charles Ray served a writ as a civil plaintiff. US officials here say their motive is to pressure the French to become tougher against terrorism.
It could prove to be a risky strategy. Lawyer Verg`es is an articulate, if controversial, defender of unpopular causes.
He has emphasized that he will aim to turn the trial into a spectacle focusing on US foreign policy. First, he says, he will blame US actions in the Middle East for causing terrorism. Then he will zero in and portray France as an American puppet. ``This is political trial,'' he says. ``The French government is caving in to American pressure.''
Although Verg`es's tactic could score points, given the touchiness the French have about maintaining an independent stance, the prosecution has assembled a 5,000 page dossier of evidence against Abdallah.
In addition to the pistol found in Abdallah's Paris apartment, security sources say eyewitnesses have identified Abdallah's girlfriend, Jacqueline Esber, as the actual murderer. Ms. Esber is on trial in absentia.
``While Abdallah didn't pull the trigger, he was the brains behind the attacks,'' one security source says. ``He gave the orders and furnished the means.''