A Lebanese military magistrate charged four men yesterday in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and recommended the death penalty if the suspects are convicted.
There was no immediate indication whether the four were connected with the Islamic Jihad terrorist faction, which had claimed responsibility for the attack that killed more than 60 persons, including 17 Americans. No date was set for a trial.
A State Department spokesman said the move could be "a positive sign" if it meant that the Lebanese government was again becoming sufficiently organized to prosecute acts of terrorism, but U.S. officials were puzzled by a report that the magistrate said three of the four charged yesterday have been in custody for more than a year.
Spokesman Michael Austrian said the United States had never been told of arrests in the bombing.
The Associated Press said the Lebanese magistrate, who spoke anonymously in accordance with military regulations, identified the four as Hussein Saleh Harb, 40, and Mahmoud Moussa Dairaki, 42, both Lebanese; Mohammed Nayef Jadaa, 54, a Palestinian, and Sami Mahmoud Hujji, 47, an Egyptian.
Harb and Hujji also were charged in the 1981 bombing of the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut in which 48 persons were killed.
Special correspondent Nora Boustany reported from Beirut that some observers saw yesterday's move as largely an effort by the beleaguered Lebanese government to make it appear that things were getting back to normal, despite the apparent absence of a workable judicial system to try the suspects.