Remember the next time that the people at the airport check-in desk ask you if you packed your bags yourself, that question is as a result of Nezar Hindawi and his ability to spot an infernal opportunity.
The 1980s was a decade during which terrorist outrages frequently dominated the news in Europe. There was – for example – the bloody attack on the main railway station in Bologna in 1980, the Air India bombing off the Irish coast in 1985, and the downing of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. However, in terms of high-profile, high-mortality attacks, 1986 was a fairly quiet year, at least in Europe.
The sharp eyes of El Al security staff
That would all have been very different were it not for the sharp eyes of El Al security staff at Heathrow Airport in London on the morning of April 17th, 1986. 1.5 kilograms of Semtex explosive were found in the bag of Anne-Marie Murphy, an Irish woman boarding an El Al flight to Tel Aviv with 375 other passengers. The explosives were found to be linked to an instrument disguised as a calculator which was actually a timing device.
Murphy stated that she was completely unaware of what was in the bag. She had been given the bag by her fiancé, one Nezar Hindawi, a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin from the town of Zarka, north-east of Amman. According to Murphy, Hindawi had sent her on the flight for the purpose of meeting his parents before their marriage.
A horrific truth
Interviews with Murphy were to unveil a horrific truth. She had been in a relationship with Hindawi but he had left her after she told him that she was pregnant with his child. Then, a few months later, Hindawi came back into her life, suggesting that they go to Israel to get married. However, his plan was to use her to carry his bomb onto the plane to kill her, his unborn child and 375 other El Al passengers.
Furthermore, Hindawi spun a story to Murphy, explaining to her why he could not travel with her as an Arab. He claimed that – as an Arab – it would take him longer to get a visa. He brought Murphy to the airport and gave her the bag packed with Semtex, and with the timer configured to trigger the explosion mid-way through the flight over Austria. As mentioned before, due to the observational skills of the El Al staff, Hindawi’s vile plan was foiled.
What words can describe that plan? The word “evil” surely applies but does it go beyond evil? Evil is hard to define but this was a man from a Palestinian background in a conservative Muslim country who was faced with the “problem” of a girlfriend from a non-Muslim background who was also pregnant with his child. His initial plan seemed to have been to write her out of his life. Did he then see in the “problem”, the opportunity to kill her, his unborn child and hundreds of Israelis. If that’s not infernal opportunism, then what is?
There are other aspects to this story that are too lengthy to be told here – such as the involvement of the Syrian embassy in London. It led to the severing of British-Syrian diplomatic relations in October 1986. Meanwhile, Hindawi has sought parole in the last decade. However, these requests have been turned down by UK courts. Hindawi was arrested 36 years ago today on April 18th, 1986. He has been in custody even since.
Remember this story the next time you are flying because one consequence of it was that airport security was tightened, especially with regard to the quizzing of passengers. When the people at the airport check-in desk ask you if you packed your bags yourself, that question is as a result of Nezar Hindawi and his ability to spot an infernal opportunity.
By Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh