Passengers See Accused Hijacker Of Twa Flight

Posted: June 16, 1987

FRANKFURT, West Germany — Mohammed Ali Hamadei, accused of the June 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which an American was killed, was confronted yesterday by American passengers who had been on the flight.

As the passengers from Trans World Airlines Flight 847 were seeing Hamadei, the Wall Street Journal published previously unreported details of the three- week hijacking.

The Journal reported that the airline sent one of its passenger planes to Italy to carry a U.S. Army anti-terrorist force to assault the hijackers in Algeria, but the assault was canceled when the hijackers ordered that the plane be flown to Beirut.

Hamadei was taken under tight security yesterday from jail in Frankfurt to nearby Wiesbaden for the identification procedure.

West German authorities, who have held Hamadei since Jan. 13, when he was caught at the Frankfurt airport allegedly trying to smuggle explosives, provided no information on what transpired in the Wiesbaden police headquarters and would not identify the hijacking witnesses nor say how many witnesses there were.

U.S. Justice Department officials, citing risks to American hostages in the Middle East, refused comment on developments in the case. "The security risks are very, very real," one official said.

The Bonn government has imposed a news blackout both on the Hamadei case and on two West German hostages held in Lebanon by the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah (Party of God). It is believed that Hezbollah is seeking Hamadei's freedom in exchange for the two hostages.

The United States hopes that the witnesses, who had identified Hamadei from photographs, will clear up whether Hamadei was involved personally in the hijacking.

Since his arrest on Jan. 13, Hamadei has been held pending extradition to the United States, which wants to try him for air piracy and the murder of Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, one of 153 people aboard the TWA jetliner when it was hijacked.

President Reagan said he spoke with Chancellor Helmut Kohl about the case during the economic summit in Italy last week and received assurance that Hamadei would not be swapped, but would be tried for hijacking and murder.

Kohl's government has said that it is still reviewing the U.S. extradition request, but that Hamadei could be tried in West Germany.

Hamadei was arrested upon his arrival from Beirut at the Frankfurt airport when customs officials found a disguised bottle of liquid explosive in his luggage and discovered that he had forged travel documents.

The Wall Street Journal article, based on a TWA internal report and on interviews, detailed the airline's role in trying to end the crisis and free the 39 Americans held hostage for 17 days.

The hijacking began June 14, 1985, and was resolved by negotiation with no casualties beyond Stethem's death.

A plan to have the Army's Delta Force storm the terrorists was ruled out, in part because the hijacked plane left Algiers and landed in Beirut, where chances of a successful assault were much worse, the newspaper said.

The Journal account said:

On the second day of the hijacking, with the plane on the runway in Algiers, a U.S. Emergency Support Team, a group of a dozen terrorism experts and a hostage negotiator, took off for the Mediterranean to pave the way for the Delta Force.

TWA was asked to provide one of its planes to serve as a Trojan horse to fly the Delta Force into the Algiers airport, because "if a big U.S. military plane roared into Algiers airport, the hijackers would suspect it was carrying an assault team."

TWA agreed and sent a plane, which it arranged to have "disappear" en route. The deception was executed by the pilot, who switched off his radio beacon, causing the plane's blip to disappear from the radar screens of Italian air traffic controllers.

The plane then headed toward a rendezvous with the Delta Force at Sigonella, a U.S. Navy base in Sicily.

But the hijacked plane had taken off for Beirut several hours before the support team reached the Algiers airport. The team had to travel by scheduled commercial flights because the Algerians wouldn't allow a military jet to land.

Meanwhile, the Italian government had delayed giving permission for the United States to use the Sigonella base, which delayed the Delta Force.

"They stonewalled us for hours and days," the Journal quoted an anonymous former White House official as saying.

Algerian officials also had said they would not tolerate any U.S. attack on their soil, the newspaper said.

After the 39 Americans were released, the airline recovered the $9 million Boeing 727 by flying it out of Beirut without permission, the Journal reported.

A three-man TWA crew flew to Beirut as passengers on a different airline, checked the plane, taxied to a runway and took off without clearance.

When the plane landed in Larnaca, Cyprus, it was discovered that someone had fired a bullet through the tail during the takeoff from Beirut, the newspaper said.

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