United Kingdon: Concerns remain on the convictions of two Palestinians accused in connection with the Israeli embassy bombing
On 1 November 2001, the Court of Appeal denied all grounds of the appeal against conviction and sentencing by Samar Alami, a Lebanese-Palestinian, and Jawad Botmeh, a Palestinian, both of whom are UK residents. They had been sentenced in 1996 to 20 years' imprisonment after being convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions in 1994 at the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House in London. Bombs exploded at these locations in July 1994; no one was killed as a result.
Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh have consistently maintained their innocence of the charges. There was no direct evidence connecting either of them to the attacks and both had alibis. The appeal was based on the grounds that the convictions were unsafe, including due to the failure of the prosecution to disclose evidence to the defence, and on the length of the sentences.
Amnesty International is concerned that Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh have been denied their right to a fair trial because they have been denied full disclosure - both during and after the trial - of all information, including intelligence information, that may have been relevant to the investigation of the bombings. Some of this evidence had been subject to Public Interest Immunity certificates, thus blocking its disclosure. Crucial questions remain unanswered concerning the role of the various intelligence services, the actions of the Israeli embassy including in the investigation, and the nature of the initial police investigation.
This case highlights some of the dangers of use of Public Interest Immunity certificates to block disclosure of evidence and raises questions about the accountability of the intelligence services.
One of the grounds of appeal was based on statements made by former MI5 agent, David Shayler, that the security services had received a warning before the bombing that an attack on the Israeli embassy was being planned. David Shayler alleged that this information had not been acted upon. Amnesty International was concerned that the appeal court proceeded, in October 2000, with a closed hearing in the absence of the defence team. (Although the judges were willing to include the leading defence barrister in the hearing, the defence solicitor would have been excluded and the barrister would have had to give an undertaking not to disclose information to the accused.) During the closed hearing the prosecution presented to the court documents which had not previously been disclosed to the accused or their lawyers.
After the hearing the judges ordered the disclosure of only one piece of evidence. This consisted of a handwritten note outlining information received by the intelligence services before the bombings that a terrorist organization, unconnected to Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh, was seeking information about the location and defences of the Israeli Embassy in London for a possible bombing attack. The note added that related intelligence after the bombings indicated that this particular organization had not carried out the bombing. The note also explained that this information had not been disclosed to the trial judge by MI5 and Special Branch because of at least six instances of 'human error' and 'oversight'.
Amnesty International has monitored, since 1995, the arrests and remand hearings of a number of persons in connection with the bombing attacks; the conditions in which some of the detainees were held on remand; the prosecution and trial in 1996 of four people, in which two people were acquitted; and the appeal hearings of Samar Alami and Jawad Botmeh in October 2000 and October 2001.