In 1986, we – the United Kingdom, that is – cut our diplomatic links with Syria over a bomb plot. Breaking off relations with them due to revelations of official complicity in a plot to blow up an El Al airliner, the Foreign Secretary said that there was ‘conclusive evidence’ of Syrian official involvement with Nezar Hindawi, who was understood to be planning to use a bomb which had been constructed at the Syrian Embassy building in London. The Syrian ambassador, Dr Loutof Haydar, was expelled from the United Kingdom, a decision which he said was ‘nonsense’.
The government’s decision came a few hours after Nezar was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment for plotting to blow up the Israeli airliner flight to Tel Aviv.
Hindawi held a Syrian passport normally reserved for government officials. He attempted to blow up the flight by planting a timer bomb inside his girlfriend’s hand luggage. Ann Murphy had been under the impression that he would follow her on a later flight. When the bomb was discovered, Nezar went to the Syrian embassy in London where he was allegedly told he had done ‘good things’. He was taken to a safe house and given a disguise …. obviously not a very good one, as he was caught when he left the safe house to go to a hotel.
The expulsion of the Syrian Embassy official was the first time an ambassador had ever been removed for being involved in criminal activities. Following their their expulsion the Syrian authorities admitted Hindawi was carrying a Syrian passport in a false name and that two separate visa applications had official support. It was also admitted that he met the ambassador immediately after the discovery of the bomb and that he then stayed in accommodation belonging to a member of the Syrian Embassy.
Syria’s response was to cut all links with us, including closing airspace and sea ports to British planes and ships. With the current climate, perhaps this decision in 1986 was no bad thing….