International group behind 1982 bombings

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Exactly 40 years after Australia was rocked by the twin bombings of Sydney’s Israeli consulate and the Hakoah Club, a coroner has laid the blame squarely on an international terrorist organisation.

The bombings on December 23, 1982, shook Australia’s Jewish community and struck fear into the wider Australian consciousness.

A bomb exploded in a stairwell adjacent to the seventh floor consulate about 2pm, injuring a number of people working at the consulate or on other levels.

About five hours later, a car parked in the basement of the Hakoah Club at Bondi exploded, but failed to detonate correctly, resulting in significantly less destruction than was planned.

Investigators at the time deemed the bombings to be an act of terrorism motivated by Palestinian nationalism.

Charges were brought against one person but later withdrawn, marking the incidents as Australia’s first cold-case terrorist act.

May 15 terrorist organisation leader Hussayn Al-Umari, also known as Abu Ibrahim, has been identified as directing the 1982 bombings in Sydney. Picture: FBIMay 15 terrorist organisation leader Hussayn Al-Umari, also known as Abu Ibrahim, has been identified as directing the 1982 bombings in Sydney. Picture: FBIFront page of The Daily Mirror, Dec 24th 1982.Front page of The Daily Mirror, Dec 24th 1982.

Following a series of hearings in early December, which coincided with NSW Police offering a $1 million reward for information, State Coroner, Magistrate Teresa O’Sullivan handed down her findings on Friday.

Ms O’Sullivan found both explosions were the act of the May 15 terrorist organisation, a now-disbanded splinter group of Palestinian nationalists responsible for a series of bombings around the world between 1980 and 1989.

“I find that both explosions were an act of international terrorism perpetrated by the May 15 terrorist organisation with the assistance of one or more local supporters,” she said.

“The two bombs were constructed outside Australia by May 15’s leader and founder, Hussayn Al-Umari – also known as Abu Ibrahim – and that he directed that the attacks take place.”

A green 1981 Valiance seen exploded in the car park of the club after the attack. Picture: NSW PoliceA green 1981 Valiance seen exploded in the car park of the club after the attack. Picture: NSW PoliceCrime scene at the Hakoah Club at Bondi after a car exploded in the car park on 23 December 1982. Picture: NSW PoliceCrime scene at the Hakoah Club at Bondi after a car exploded in the car park on 23 December 1982. Picture: NSW Police

She said the bombings had the potential to cause catastrophic harm, but it was through “sheer luck” that no lives were lost.

Around 100 to 150 people were inside the Hakoah Club when the bomb malfunctioned, with analysis revealing if it had detonated correctly it “could have destroyed the entire building”.

Parts of the bomb were taken to an FBI laboratory in Washington DC, which concluded components matched two previous bombs on Pan American Airways flights.

The vehicle used in the bomb was traced to a Burwood second-hand car dealership, whose staff identified three “possible operatives”.

Composite sketches of these individuals were later released by NSW Police in 2013.

NSW Police released three images of people they believed could assist with inquiries into the 1982 bombing of the Israeli Consulate and Hakoah Club in Sydney in 2012 after reopening the cold case. Picture: NSW PoliceNSW Police released three images of people they believed could assist with inquiries into the 1982 bombing of the Israeli Consulate and Hakoah Club in Sydney in 2012 after reopening the cold case. Picture: NSW Police

The Coroner heard from Professor Bruce Hoffman that there was significant anti-Israel protests and sentiment in Australia following the June 1982 Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon and September 1982 refugee massacre in Beirut.

Hussayn Al-Umar, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, would have turned 86 in 2022.

He was described by ex-CIA officer and counter terrorist specialist, Robert Baer, in a report to the Inquest as “the most capable and dangerous bomb maker in the world”.

Ms O’Sullivan called on NSW Police to “consider the appropriateness and timing of retesting exhibits” following improvements in DNA analysis.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark said the findings bring some comfort to the NSW Jewish community and those who were impacted 40 years ago.

“We thank the NSW Coroner’s Court, the NSW Government and the NSW Police Force for their steadfast and resolute commitment to pursuing justice. Our community remains hopeful that the perpetrators of this heinous attack will be caught,” he said.

NSW Police counter terrorism and special tactics commander, Assistant Commissioner Mark Walton said police had dedicated “countless hours” to the investigation.

“After forty years, we have not only identified the international terrorists who directed these acts of terrorism, but also how they made the devices and carried out the attacks,” he said.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the strength and resilience of the community, particularly today on the 40th anniversary of that day of senseless violence.”

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