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London bears witness to attacks on Israeli targets: Charles Richards, Middle East Editor, on the long line of terrorist assaults in the capital

THE ATTACK on the Israeli embassy yesterday was the latest in a long line of assaults on Israeli targets in London over the years.

In 1972, at the height of Middle East terrorism on the streets of Europe, the agricultural attache at the Israeli embassy was killed by a letter bomb.

Ten years later came the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambassador. The gunman was from the extremist Palestinian faction of Abu Nidal and he was run by the Iraqi military attache. The bullet from a pistol lodged in the ambassador's brain and although he survived, he remains paralysed. The shooting was the spur for Israel to invade Lebanon.

In 1986, Nizar Hendawi a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, tried to smuggle a bomb on to an El Al jumbo jet flying out of Heathrow by giving a primed suitcase to Ann Murphy, his pregnant Irish girlfriend.

All these attacks were perpetrated by Palestinian nationalists. In recent years however, Israel has been pointing the finger at Islamic extremists as the main scourge. Yesterday the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, asserted in Washington: 'There is no doubt in my mind that we face a wave of extreme Islamic radical terrorist movements in the Arab Muslim countries.

'They have the infrastructure all over the world - in the United States, in Europe, in Latin America,' he added, citing Hizbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

'They continue a struggle of terror to kill Israelis, to fight against moderate Arab regimes, and to do everything to undermine any possibility to continue with the peace process to bring about a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbouring Arab countries and the Palestinians.'

He mentioned the bomb attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 26 February 1993, saying: 'You can never know what will be the next target of these terrible extreme terror movements.'

In the Seventies, most of the terrorism was by radical Arab regimes or groups against moderates or dissidents. Said Hammami, one of the first Palestinian proponents of peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis, was killed in London. Libyan and Iraqi opponents of their respective regimes were murdered on the streets of London. The siege of the Iranian embassy was carried out by Iraqi agents and it was shots fired from inside the Libyan embassy which claimed the life of Constable Yvonne Fletcher.

Scottish police have still not managed to bring to justice the two Libyan agents accused of placing the bomb on board PanAm flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie.

Although this latest attack once again exposes the vulnerability of any democracy to terrorist attacks, in more recent years London has acquired a reputation among Middle Eastern exiles as one of the safer refuges from the long hand of hostile groups and regimes. Many have chosen London because they feel they are afforded better protection than in say France, where they also fear change of policy for sake of political expediency could lead them to be sent home.

That said, the British authorities keep a close eye on the Kurdish terrorist group the PKK, which has been behind several waves of bomb attacks across Europe, and the Iranians.