Suspected 1985 hijacker arrested in Greece
The Greek authorities say a Lebanese man suspected of involvement in the hijacking of a US aeroplane in 1985 has been arrested.
The unnamed 65-year-old man was detained on the Aegean island of Mykonos after stepping off a cruise ship where he was flagged as wanted by Germany during a passport check.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said the suspect was a Lebanese journalist called Mohammed Saleh and that diplomatic envoys planned to visit him today (Sunday).
But the Greek media said he was Mohammed Ali Hammadi, who was arrested in Frankfurt in 1987 and convicted in Germany for the plane hijacking and granted parol in 2005.
Hammadi, fellow hijacker Hasan Izz-al-Din and accomplice Ali Atwa remain on the FBI’s terrorist hit list. The FBI has offered a reward of up to US$5 million for information leading to each man’s capture.
The TWA Flight 847 was seized by alleged members of the Shia group Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed organisation denied any involvement.
A US navy diver, who was on the flight, was severely beaten and killed.
Robert Dean Stethem, 23, was shot and his body dropped from the plane at Beirut airport.
The suspect is also wanted in Germany for a kidnapping in 1987.
He is reportedly being held in Greece until Germany confirms his identity.
Two years after the hijacking, the suspect was allegedly arrested and sentenced in Germany but subsequently exchanged with two Germans who had been seized in Beirut.
In 2006 the US formally asked Lebanon to extradite the suspect for Stethem’s murder. The FBI named him on its “most wanted terrorists” list as Hammadi.
The TWA (Trans World Airlines) flight from Cairo to San Diego, with stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles, was hijacked on June 14, 1985, after leaving Athens and taken to Algiers and then Beirut.
Some of the 153 passengers and crew members were held hostage for up to 17 days. They were tied and beaten. The hijackers demanded the release of about 700 Lebanese Shia suspected militants held by Israel.
The hijackers subsequently began releasing their hostages.
The FBI said at least four hijackers were involved. Hammadi was arrested in Germany in 1987 and held until 2005 when he returned to Beirut.
Imad Mughniyeh was reportedly killed in a 2008 bombing in Damascus and Izz-Al-Din and Ali Atwa were never caught.
The 1986 film Delta Force was based on the incident.
TWA 847. Picture credit: Wikimedia