France tries 3 in absentia over 1988 Greek ship attack

Three suspects in a gun and grenade attack on a Greek ferry nearly 24 years ago went on trial in absentia in Paris on Monday for their roles in the deaths of three French citizens who were among the nine people killed.

Attorney Francis Szpiner, representing civil parties at the special French anti-terrorism court, deplored the «scandalous delay» in bringing the men to trial. French judicial officials concede they are uncertain whether any of the defendants in the July 11, 1988, attack on the City of Poros ferry are still alive.

However, families of the three French victims hope the trial can finally bring them closure. Two families want to definitively clear the names of their loved ones, who were at one point suspected by Greece of being terrorists instead of victims.

French prosecutors maintain the defendants belonged to the Fatah Revolutionary Council, a Palestinian extremist group linked to the organization of breakaway Palestinian radical Abu Nidal.

France can investigate cases originating elsewhere, and try suspects, if French citizens are involved.

Up to 98 others were injured -- more than 30 of them French -- in the attack as the ship steamed toward a suburban Athens marina after a one-day cruise through the Saronic Gulf islands.

"I hope words will be spoken that will allow us to turn the page,» said Christiane Vigneron, mother of Laurent Vigneron, at one point suspected by Greek investigators of involvement in the attack. Killed with two bullets in the back, the 22-year-old was later totally cleared.

"Families suffered from the accusations of Greece» and “even if the trial takes place without the accused, it is important that the honor (of the French victims) be washed clean,» said Francoise Rudetzki, of the association SOS Catastrophe and Terrorism, a victims’ rights group.

The three defendants were originally ordered to trial in 2004. Adnan Sojod is charged with voluntary homicide, and Samir Khaidir and Abdul Hamid Amoud are both charged with attempted voluntary homicide linked to a terrorist enterprise.

As early as 1989, Greek port authority officials suspected that Sojod, a Lebanese national, was killed by an explosion on the boat.

Abu Nidal’s radical Palestinian faction was blamed for killing or wounding nearly 1,000 people in 20 countries beginning in 1973. The attack on the cruise ferry was among the most notorious.

At least one of the French passengers who survived the attack regretted that the defendants weren’t present.

"We would like to have understood» their motivation, said Josiane Barbier, now 68. «The man who fired on me was just three meters (yard) away."

The verdict is expected by the end of the week. [The Associated Press]

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