SYDNEY – Three decades after twin bombings rocked the Israeli Consulate and a Jewish social club in Sydney, Australian detectives believe they are closing in on the suspected perpetrators of the attacks that took place just two days before Christmas in 1982.
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No one was killed in the blasts at the consulate and the Hakoah Club, an iconic sports and social club in Sydney, but two people were wounded, one seriously. Police have made previous arrests in the case, but charges against one suspect were dropped in 1984 due to insufficient evidence. Then, last year, police established a special strike force called “Operation Forbearance” to investigate the two bombings. Detectives confirmed they had traveled to Israel to interview former consulate staff and witnesses of the bombings.
Now, three decades on, the reopened cold case appears to be reaching its end-game. Caroline O’Hare, a counterterrorism and special tactics detective-inspector in Sydney, told Haaretz this week that new technology has enabled detectives to recover fingerprints and DNA evidence from both sites.
Police are now matching the DNA with Australians they suspect of being involved in the attacks.
“It’s not a simple thing,” O’Hare said. “We’re in the process of using DNA we’ve collected against all suspects. There are a lot of suspects in Australia who are still around.”
In particular, she said they now know the gas cylinders used in the Hakoah Club bombing came from the State Rail Authority at Central Station in Sydney. They suspect someone working there may have been an accomplice and are urging anyone with information to come forward.
O’Hare also confirmed a suspicion that has long been believed: that the double bombings – the worst attacks in the history of Australian Jewry – were masterminded by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s May 15 faction, headed by Abu Ibrahim. “Absolutely it was the work of May 15,” O’Hare said.
Ibrahim is on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists list and the U.S. government is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
The bombing device, which did not explode properly underneath the Hakoah Club, has been matched by the FBI to Ibrahim and 18 other bombing devices used by them around the world, she said.
“The E-cell battery detonator has been matched perfectly to the Pan Am flight 830 bomb [which killed one person and wounded 15 others] and other devices,” she added.
It is believed Ibrahim may have been assisted by Mohammed Rashid, who was jailed for the August 1982 bombing of that Pan Am flight.
Now the hunt is on for the Australian locals connected to May 15. “We want locals who knew about the group to come out,” O’Hare said.
The first bomb was detonated inside a suitcase in the stairwell of the Israeli Consulate around 2 P.M. on December 23; the second bomb detonated just under five hours later inside a car in the parking lot underneath the Hakoah Club. Police believe the Hakoah bombing was intended to raze the entire building, which had about 200 people inside at the time.
Police believe the lives of hundreds of Jewish athletes inside the club were spared because the bomb did not detonate properly.
In June this year, the New South Wales government offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for the 1982 terror attacks. Currently police consider three men and one woman to be primary suspects in the attacks, but believe they had a slew of accomplices.
The case will remain open for “as long as it takes” to bring the perpetrators to justice, detectives said.