ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek police said Saturday they have arrested a suspect in the 1985 Hezbollah hijacking of a flight from Athens that became a multi-day ordeal and included the slaying of an American.
Police said a 65-year-old suspect in a 1985 hijacking and a 1987 abduction was arrested Thursday on the island of Mykonos in response to a warrant from Germany.
Lt. Col. Theodoros Chronopoulos, a police spokesman, told The Associated Press the hijacking case involved TWA Flight 847. The flight was commandeered by hijackers shortly after taking off from Athens on June 14, 1985, demanding the release of 700 Shi’ite Muslims from Israeli custody. The flight originated in Cairo and had San Diego set as a final destination, with stops scheduled in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles.
The hijackers shot and killed US Navy diver Robert Stethem, 23, after beating him unconscious. They released the other 146 passengers and crew members on the plane in stages during an ordeal that included making three stops in Beirut and two in Algiers. The last hostage was freed after 17 days.
The suspect was in custody Saturday on the Greek island of Syros but was set to be transferred to the Korydallos high security prison in Athens for extradition proceedings, a police spokeswoman told The Associated Press. She said the suspect was a Lebanese citizen. The spokeswoman spoke on condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
Police refused to release the suspect’s name. Several Greek media outlets named him as Mohammed Ali Hammadi, who was arrested in Frankfurt in 1987 and convicted in Germany for the plane hijacking and Stethem’s slaying. Hammadi, an alleged Hezbollah member, received life in prison as a sentence but was paroled in 2005 and returned to Lebanon.
Germany resisted pressure to extradite him to the United States after Hezbollah abducted two German citizens in Beirut and threatened to kill them.
Hammadi, along with fellow hijacker Hasan Izz-Al-Din and Ali Atwa, remains on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists under the name Mohammed Ali Hamadei. The FBI offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his capture.
After the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, the United States issued a travel warning that referred to allegedly lax security at the Athens airport. The advisory was widely perceived in Greece as punishment for the pro-Arab stance of the country’s socialist government at the time, but also led to calls for tightening security measures.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.