Who killed Alex Odeh, whose 1985 bombing death in OC was invoked by UCI protesters? (2024)

Who killed Alex Odeh, whose 1985 bombing death in OC was invoked by UCI protesters? (1)

Before police tore it down on Wednesday, a banner fluttered from the second-floor balcony of UC Irvine’s Physical Sciences Lecture Hall:

“Alex Odeh Hall,” it said.

But who was Alex Odeh?

Nearly 40 years ago, a pipe bomb exploded as Odeh opened the door to his office on East 17th Street in Santa Ana, killing him and injuring seven others.

Odeh was the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s southern regional director. A Palestinian-born Christian and U.S. citizen, who lived in Orange County most of his adult life. He’s been hailed as a peace activist who strove for civil liberties for Arab-Americans and human rights around the world, a poet who published “Whispers in Exile,” a lecturer in Middle East history and Arabic language at Coastline College and Cal State Fullerton.

When he died, at age 41, he was also a husband and father of three girls. And despite many decades, tips, investigations, public identification of suspects, extradition requests and a $1 million reward offer from the FBI, his murder remains officially unsolved.

Odeh has very nearly been dead as long as he was alive. One might see his murder as foreshadowing the bloody conflict gripping the Middle East, and spilling onto American college campuses, today, or as an early volley in the violent back-and-forth that shows no sign of abating.

A 6-foot statue of Odeh outside Santa Ana’s main library celebrates his legacy, but has been defaced over the years by vandals wielding blood-red paint.

The Middle Eastern conflict came to Orange County long before the current protesters were born.


Who killed Alex Odeh, whose 1985 bombing death in OC was invoked by UCI protesters? (2)

It was a terribly fraught time. On Oct. 7, 1985, the Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Terrorists killed Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish American tourist who used a wheelchair, and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners.

A few days later, Odeh appeared on the TV news show “Nightline” to present the Palestinian-American voice. He verbally sparred with a representative from the Jewish Defense League, condemned terrorism, suggested America should give PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat more credit for helping secure the release of other Achillo Lauro passengers, and said Arafat was a man of peace, according to several reports.

Santa Ana’s ADC office was not the first to be bombed. An explosion in Boston just two months before injured two people. Whoever was responsible for the Santa Ana attack must have been planning for some time, so it couldn’t have been vengeance over Odeh’s on-air comments that sparked it, some have speculated.

But on Oct. 11, 1985, the day after his appearance on “Nightline,” Odeh was dead. He had been scheduled to speak at a Fountain Valley synagogue later that day.

President Ronald Reagan sent condolences. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee condemned the murder. But Irv Rubin, chair of the Jewish Defense League, was quoted as saying, “I have no tears for Mr. Odeh,” “He got exactly what he deserved,” and “My tears were used up crying for Leon Klinghoffer.”


A month later, the FBI publicly linked that bombing and two others to the Jewish Defense League. Rubin, its leader, blasted the FBI for maligning it without evidence, and said the FBI “could take their possible link and shove it.” A few months later the FBI classified the bombing as terrorism but eased away from its original statements, saying the Jewish Defense League was “probably” responsible for the Odeh attack and four others, but that further investigation was needed. Rubin again denied his organization’s involvement.

Who killed Alex Odeh, whose 1985 bombing death in OC was invoked by UCI protesters? (3)

The FBI identified three suspects, believed to be affiliated with the Jewish Defense League, who fled to Israel soon after the bombing. A woman was arrested in 1988 for a different bombing but was suspected of ties to the Odeh bombing as well. Her husband, living in Israel, was also charged in that bombing, and suspected in the Odeh bombing as well. The jury deadlocked on the woman’s guilt, and she left American to join her husband in Israel.

Later, the U.S. asked for the couple to be extradited. They fought. The husband was ultimately convicted of a bombing — not Odeh’s — but his wife died in an Israeli prison in 1994, awaiting extradition to the U.S.

In April 1994, the Alex Odeh Memorial Statue went up. “To him, Jews, Christians, Muslims, all were the children of Abraham,” the statue’s inscription says.

In 1996, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Odeh’s killers.

Rubin and another Jewish Defense League member were charged with conspiracy to bomb the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, as well as the office of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, in 2001. Rubin allegedly slit his own throat and leapt over a railing at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles in 2002, in what officials called a suicide. His alleged accomplice, who allegedly knew the names of the Odeh bombers, was killed in a federal prison in Arizona in 2005.

The Odeh case has been described as the FBI’s oldest open counter-terrorism investigation. For years, Orange County’s congressional reps have been asking the FBI and the Attorney General for updates, and introducing resolutions in Congress to commemorate Odeh’s life.

Who killed Alex Odeh, whose 1985 bombing death in OC was invoked by UCI protesters? (4)

“Whereas those responsible for the act of domestic terrorism which killed Alex Odeh have yet to be brought to justice,” says the one introduced by Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, last fall, “the House of Representatives acknowledges with profound sorrow the death of Alexander Michael Odeh, a victim of domestic terrorism; the House of Representatives tenders its deep sympathy to the members of the family of the late Mr. Odeh and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in their bereavement; the Clerk of the House of Representatives will communicate this resolution to the Senate and transmit a copy thereof to the family of the deceased; and when the House of Representatives adjourns today, it adjourns as a further mark of respect to the memory of Mr. Odeh.”

While the FBI and Department of Justice have understandably declined to update Correa’s office on the status of an ongoing investigation, “Mr. Correa will continue to memorialize the life of Alex Odeh in the United States Congress with this resolution — not just as an act of remembrance, but to continue to keep interest in the investigation alive,” said Adriano Pucci, Correa’s spokesman.

Someday, perhaps, we’ll know who killed Alex Odeh.

Who killed Alex Odeh, whose 1985 bombing death in OC was invoked by UCI protesters? (2024)
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