BUFFALO, N.Y. >> A Jordanian-born Palestinian who was imprisoned in the United States for putting a bomb on a Hawaii-bound flight in 1982 has been relocated to the West African country of Mauritania.
Mohammed Rashed’s attorney said Monday that Rashed, who had been held in federal detention outside Buffalo, was removed from the United States earlier this month.
Rashed pleaded guilty in 2002 to setting off a bomb on Pan Am Flight 830, killing a Japanese teenager and injuring 15 other people on its flight from Tokyo. As part of the plea agreement, the government agreed to work to deport Rashed to the country of his choice after prison.
Rashed finished serving his sentence in 2013 but removal efforts were stalled by diplomatic complications. Rashed’s stated destination of choice was the West Bank.
The plea deal reflects the balancing of two government interests that are sometimes in conflict: securing lengthy prison sentences for dangerous felons while also incentivizing their cooperation against higher-value targets through the prospect of an early release. Rashed’s cooperation has already been extensive by some accounts, including providing information about a 1986 airplane explosion that killed four Americans and a 1982 Berlin restaurant bombing that killed a child, former Assistant U.S. Attorney General David Kris wrote in a 2011 article for the Journal of National Security Law & Policy.
The man believed to be the matermind of the Pam Am Flight 830, Abu Ibrahim, who is on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list, has never been captured. Ibahim, who in 1979 formed his own terrorist faction — “15 May” — named after the date of Israel’s founding, was known for crafting sophisticated plastic explosives that could be smuggled in bags and suitcases and that relied on a unique delayed-timing device.
The August 11, 1982, bombing of Pan Am 830 was set in motion when Rashed, wife Christine Pinter and their son traveled to Tokyo with fraudulent identification documents. Rashed tucked the bomb beneath window seat 47K, pulled the pin, engaged the timer and got off in Japan. Toru Ozawa, a 16-year-old vacationing with his family, occupied the same seat on the next leg.
The bomb exploded as the plane crossed the Pacific Ocean, filling the rear passenger cabin with smoke, screams and blood.
Ozawa was killed as he cried out for his parents. More than a dozen others were injured. The pilot managed to land the plane despite a gaping hole in the cabin floor and bulge in its exterior.
“The sad thing about this is Toru Ozawa is dead. He’d be a man with a family, and it was heartbreaking,” said Dan Bent, then Hawaii’s U.S. Attorney. “He was killed right in the presence of his family. He was eviscerated by this bomb.”
A piece of gold-plated nickel located inside Ozawa’s body helped link that explosion to others by Ibrahim. Another big break came after a 15 May defector FBI betrayed Rashed to the FBI.
Rashed flew back to Baghdad after the bombing, and though at large for years, was arrested in Athens in 1988 with a phony Syrian passport. The Greek government refused to extradite Rashed and insisted on prosecuting him.
In Greek court, Rashed delivered long, rambling monologues that veered between didactic and combative.
He denied being a terrorist and called the charge a “frame-up,” insisting his real name was Mohammed Hamdan — the name on his passport — and that he was a PLO fighter in Beirut at the time of the Pan Am explosion. But he also said the Palestinians, as victims of the “Zionist establishment,” were justified in using “violence against their conquerors in any way they deem appropriate.”
A three-judge panel convicted Rashed of the bombing and sentenced him 18 years in prison — a punishment later reduced to 15 years.
He was released for good behavior in 1996, after just eight years. The FBI whisked him out of Egypt in 1998 and returned him to the U.S. for prosecution.
After years of legal wrangling, he struck a deal that allowed for his release in 2013, after less than 25 years in custody.