30 YEARS LATER, POLICE HUNT FOR BOMBERS
Counterterrorism police in NSW are reinvestigating the 30-year-old unsolved bombings of the Israeli consulate in Sydney's CBD and the Hakoah Club in Bondi.
Counterterrorism police in NSW are reinvestigating the 30-year-old unsolved bombings of the Israeli consulate in Sydney's CBD and the Hakoah Club in Bondi.The Sun-Herald has been told that "positive lines of inquiry" on the attacks in 1982, in which two people were injured, are being actively followed and that some of the suspects are still living in Sydney. The investigation team comprises about 20 detectives and analysts and is code-named Operation Forbearance.Evidence gathered almost three decades ago is being re-examined by detectives and forensic experts in the hope that advances in technology will provide a breakthrough.Detectives have also spoken to a convicted terrorist turned informer, Mohammed Rashed, who is serving a prison sentence in the United States. Rashed, now in his mid-60s, was sentenced in 2006 for his part in the bombing of Pan Am flight 830 from Tokyo to Honolulu in August 1982, months before the December 23 attacks in Sydney. A teenage boy on the Pan Am flight died in his father's arms and several other passengers were injured.Rashed, also known as Rashid Mohammed, is believed to have subsequently come to Australia to help target the consulate and the predominantly Jewish Hakoah Club.After his sentencing, the US Justice Department said that Rashed, a member of the "15 May" terrorist group that focused on US and Israeli targets, had actually pleaded guilty in 2002 and had been co-operating with US authorities since then. In a statement at the time, the department revealed that Rashed had plenty of information to offer."Rashed and his accomplices were given a safe haven in Iraq in the early 1980s by Saddam Hussein's regime," it said. "They launched multiple bombing operations, out of Baghdad, throughout Europe, and, in this case, on the American-owned passenger airplane bound for the United States."It is not clear to what degree Rashed is helping the NSW investigation, headed by Detective Inspector David Gawel and which includes officers from the NSW Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Rashed is due to be freed in March next year.The Sun-Herald has learned that Operation Forbearance was created after Detective Inspector Carolyn O'Hare, the head of the strategy unit within counterterrorism command, began a cold-case review about 18 months ago. "There is a lot more to this [case] in terms of international political motivation," one source said. "They are starting again back from day one. They are basically restarting from scratch."The president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Yair Miller, told The Sun-Herald: "We welcome the fact that new evidence seems to have come to light that might help solve this case."No one was killed in the 1982 attacks. The Israeli consulate, in Westfield Towers in William Street, was rocked by an explosion at 1.55pm on the Thursday before Christmas. Two people were injured. About five hours later, an LPG bomb planted in a 1971 Valiant parked in the Hakoah Club's car park went off but failed to detonate properly. It caused major structural damage but no one was seriously hurt.Police believe the terrorists wanted to collapse the building and kill as many people as possible. NSW police formed what was known as the bomb task force, led by Detective Superintendent Ron Stephenson.The Valiant was an obvious line of inquiry. Detectives quickly established that the car had been bought on December 14 from a dealer on Parramatta Road in Burwood. The salesman, David Cawthorn, told investigators that two men came to the yard at about 3pm, negotiated a sale and said the car would be collected in a few days. Records identified the buyer as a "David Hoffman", of Bondi.Cawthorn gave descriptions of the two men, which led to police issuing sketches of the suspects."David Hoffman" was described as in his 30s, solidly built and of Arab appearance. Court records examined by The Sun-Herald, and an article written by Stephenson after his retirement, say the Valiant, number plate AOI 267, was collected by a woman on December 22, the day before the Hakoah Club bombing. Some time between the Valiant being picked up and the bombing, its number plates were swapped. The twisted remains of the Valiant that were examined by forensic officers bore the registration LBT 657.That plate belonged to a Ford sedan that was stolen on December 20 from a woman from Kogarah, Khadijah Beydoun. It was found burnt out the same day.When police checked her family background, they identified a "person of interest" - her brother, Mohammed Ali Beydoun, 32, who worked for Australia Post as a mail sorter at Sydney Airport. He was placed under surveillance.Court records show that the car salesman, Cawthorn, was shown a number of photographs of men of a similar age. He identified Beydoun as the man who had bought the Valiant using the name Hoffman. When taken by police to Sydney Airport at 6am on January 28, 1983, he again identified Beydoun in the crowded terminal.On February 1, 1983, at 4am, six detectives went to Chapel Street, Rockdale, knocked on the door of Beydoun's unit and arrested him. Police searched the unit and seized items including a shirt and documents. At 7.50am that day, Beydoun was interviewed and told he had been identified as the man who bought the Valiant used in the bombing. He strongly denied any involvement."I'm an honest man," he told detectives. "I never buy the car."If I put the bomb in the car, then cut my head off and put it in Martin Place for everyone to see."The record of Beydoun's interview shows that he said he did not even know where the Hakoah Club was. He was charged with being "an accessory before the fact" in the bombing of the club by persons unknown, and granted bail.On December 16, 1983, after a hearing before the magistrate Kevin Waller, Beydoun was committed for trial, but Waller sounded a note of caution, saying the case was "extremely difficult" and the "evidence delicately balanced". He said that while Cawthorn's identification evidence was "strong", it would be difficult to secure a conviction and "even harder to maintain on appeal". Nevertheless, Waller said he did not wish to "usurp the function of a jury" and he sent the case for trial.The police case never made it before a jury. Beydoun, who was born in Bint Jbeil in Lebanon and who arrived in Australia in 1972, had no previous criminal history. He was married with two children. He was a justice of the peace who said his leisure activities consisted of swimming and reading.Through his lawyers, he asked the NSW Attorney-General for a "no bill", to stop the prosecution because of a lack of evidence. Court records examined by The Sun-Herald show the crown prosecutor advised that a no bill should be granted, as did the Crown Advocate, Reg Blanch, QC, now the chief judge of the NSW District Court.Blanch said there was no evidence of motive and no evidence to tie Beydoun "in with any organisation which might bear a grudge against the Hakoah Club".In 1984, the no bill was granted. Beydoun was a free man. No one else has been charged and there is no suggestion that Beydoun was in any way involved in purchase of the Valiant or the bombings.The files were sent to the archive where they gathered dust for the best part of three decades. Until now.