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Suspects Identified in Deadly 1982 Terror Attack on Jewish Restaurant in Paris

International arrest warrants have been issued for the three men accused of killing six people 33 years ago during an attack on a famed kosher eatery in the heart of Paris.

by Pierre Longeray
Mar 4 2015, 9:35pm

Photo by Lionel Cironneau/AP

After more than three decades of investigation, French authorities have finally identified three suspects in a deadly 1982 terror attack on a famed kosher eatery in the heart of Paris.

According to French radio station RTL, French investigating judge Marc Trévidic has issued international arrest warrants for the three men, who are now thought to be living in Norway, Palestine, and Jordan.

Alain Jakubowicz, president of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA), told RTL the identification of the suspects provides "a sense of justice."

"No criminal, no terrorist can hide indefinitely, because wherever they are, they will be stopped," Jakubowicz said.

On August 9, 1982, a group of masked assailants hurled a grenade through the window of Jo Goldenberg's restaurant, a famous dining spot at the heart of the Jewish quarter of the La Marais neighborhood in Paris. The attackers then burst into the restaurant, firing machine guns onto the large crowd that had gathered for lunch hour. Six people — including two Americans — were killed in the attack, and 22 others were injured, making it the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on French soil since World War II.

Related: A Canadian professor accused of a 1980 Paris synagogue bombing has been extradited to France. 

Jo Goldenberg's restaurant, which specialized in Jewish eastern European cuisine, was a legendary establishment, located on a corner of Rue des Rosiers, a street lined with Jewish delis and eateries, and itself a Parisian Jewish landmark. The restaurant, which opened in 1945, a year after the liberation of Paris, was popular with locals and tourists alike, and police in 1982 described the attackers' goal as killing as many people as possible.

After the assault on Goldenberg's, the gunmen fled down the Rue des Rosiers, throwing another grenade and firing on bystanders with their WZ63 machine guns before vanishing into the Marais, a maze of cramped and winding streets. No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The suspects identified by Judge Trévidic are former members of the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), a militant Palestinian splinter group formed by Abu Nidal in 1974 after a split with Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The terror group is widely known for a series of deadly terror attacks carried out against Western, Palestinian, and Israeli targets in the '70s and '80s.

Jean-Louis Bruguière, the anti-terror judge who was in charge of the investigation in 1982 and is now retired, always suspected Abu Nidal's involvement in the attack, but failed to secure any convictions. The ANO, which usually claimed responsibility for its attacks, maintained it had nothing to do with the deadly raid on Rue des Rosiers, and Nidal, the group's founder, died in Baghdad in 2002.

According to French news reports, detectives were able to link the attack to the ANO by interviewing former members of the terror group and comparing ballistics reports that matched the ammunition used during the Goldenberg attack with other raids throughout Europe.

The three suspects named by Trévidic are 59-year-old Mahmoud Khader Abed Adra, who resides in Ramallah, in the West Bank, 62-year-old Souhair Mouhamad Hassan Khalid, who lives in neighboring Jordan, and 56-year-old Walid Abdulrahman Abou Zayed, who has lived in Norway since 1990 and is now a Norwegian citizen.

It took investigators 33 years to identify the men, and the victims' families may have to wait many more years to see the suspects brought before a French court. Jordanian authorities have said they would oppose any request for extradition to France.

But Trévidic, who has presided over a number of high-profile terror-related cases and is known for his tenaciousness, has a long track record of closing unsolved cases.

Related: French president vows that Jews will be safe after grave desecrations. 

In 2007, Trévidic re-opened the case of the 1980 Copernic attack — a deadly bombing outside the Copernic synagogue in Paris. Trévidic and his team were able to track down suspect Hassan Diab, who is now working as a sociology professor in Canada. In November 2014, Canadian courts upheld an order for Diab's extradition to France.

The recent identification of the suspects in the 1982 attack comes as France is reeling from a recent wave of anti-Semitic incidents that have left the country's Jewish community feeling increasingly vulnerable.

On January 9, one day after two attackers killed 12 at the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, gunman Amédy Coulibaly attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris, leading to the death of four hostages. Since the attacks, French officials have sought to reassure the Jewish community in France — the largest Jewish population in Europe — by tightening security outside of Jewish schools, synagogues, and other institutions.

Jo Goldenberg's restaurant closed down in 2006 amid reports of health code violations and bankruptcy, and has since been replaced with a clothing store. All that remains of the original landmark is a small commemorative plaque with the names of the victims.

Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter: @PLongeray