WASHINGTON – A Jordanian-born Palestinian responsible for a deadly 1982 airline bombing sought to be deported to the West Bank upon completing his prison sentence last year, but the Israeli government denied the request, citing problems with his identity documents, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Since then there have been "confidential diplomatic dealings" aimed at moving Mohammed Rashed out of the U.S. and fulfilling an earlier commitment to deport him, court filings show.
Rashed was released from federal prison in March 2013 for the bombing of Pan Am 830, which killed a Japanese teenager and injured more than a dozen passengers aboard the Hawaii-bound plane. A onetime lieutenant of a Palestinian bomb maker featured on the FBI's list of most-wanted terrorists, Rashed remains at a federal immigration detention facility in upstate New York that houses those awaiting deportation.
He was sentenced to prison in 2006 under a plea deal that allowed for his release last year and required him to cooperate with investigations into other terrorist plots he knew about. The U.S. government said as part of the agreement that it would work to deport Rashed to a country of his choice after he served his time on murder and conspiracy charges.
Emails and other documents obtained by the AP from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shed light on why Rashed remains in custody well after his release from prison. The documents show he requested last year to be sent to the West Bank — where he has family — and the government sought Israel's permission to send him there via a bridge connecting the territory with Jordan. Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 and controls access into and out of the territory.
But the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a June 25, 2013, memo that Rashed's Palestinian passport and birth certificate "contain material discrepancies" about his place and date of birth. The memo to the U.S. Embassy does not specify the discrepancies but said the request would be reconsidered if he submitted better documentation to prove past residence in Palestinian Authority areas.
A follow-up email between government officials suggested that "we turn our focus to a third country for removal" while "additional strategies and solutions" are developed.
Even before that rejection, government officials had discussed coordinating travel plans with other foreign countries. "It will take a little push to have Jordan accept and provide a security detail," one email said.
The AP recently obtained the heavily redacted documents through a Freedom of Information Act request filed more than a year ago. An ICE spokesman declined to comment on current negotiations, but said Rashed remains at a Batavia, New York, facility while the agency finalizes his deportation.
Recent court filings have been sealed, though Justice Department lawyers wrote in March that high-level "confidential diplomatic dealings" were ongoing. His lawyer, federal public defender A.J. Kramer, declined comment.
It was not clear whether Rashed, now in his mid-60s, had submitted additional paperwork for the West Bank or exactly where those efforts stood. Issa Karake, head of the Palestinian government's prisoner affairs department, told the AP that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was "contacting the Israeli side and other countries to ... bring him back to the country."
Abdullah Zaghari, a cousin of Rashed, said Rashed's relatives in a West Bank refugee camp had not seen him in decades. He said it was time for Rashed to come "live with his family and see his mother before she dies."
It's not surprising that paperwork questions would affect Rashed's release. Authorities say he moved around the world with fraudulent identity documents, including those used to board the Pan Am flight before the bombing. Several years later he was caught with a fake passport in Greece, where he was prosecuted for the bombing.
Rashed has been in U.S. or Greek custody for the better part of 25 years.
U.S. officials have long seen him as a crucial link to Abu Ibrahim, a Palestinian bomb maker who formed 15 May, a terrorist faction named after the date of Israel's founding, and was known for making sophisticated plastic explosives that could be smuggled in bags and suitcases. Abu Ibrahim, also known as Husayn Muhammad Al-Umari, remains on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists and was indicted in 1987 in the U.S. along with Rashed.
The Aug. 11, 1982, bombing was set in motion when Rashed, his wife and their young son traveled from Baghdad to Tokyo. He tucked a bomb beneath his seat cushion, engaged the timer and disembarked with his family when the flight landed in Japan. The device exploded as the plane descended into Honolulu, killing a 16-year-old boy who occupied the same seat on the plane's next leg.
Rashed was arrested in Athens, Greece, in 1988 for traveling with a false passport and implicated in the bomb attack. Rather than extraditing him for the bombing, Greek authorities prosecuted him and won a conviction.
He was released from prison in 1996, but then arrested by the FBI in another country two years later and returned to the U.S. for prosecution. He pleaded guilty in 2002.
Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
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