Lebanese man nabbed in Greece ‘mistaken’ for Flight 847 hijacker, officials say
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Lebanese man nabbed in Greece ‘mistaken’ for Flight 847 hijacker, officials say

Sources name man in Greek custody as Mohamed Ali Saleh, say his name is nearly identical to that of alleged Hezbollah member

In this photo from June 19, 1985, two hijackers of TWA Flight 847 emerge from the plane at Beirut airport. (Nabil Ismail/AFP)
In this photo from June 19, 1985, two hijackers of TWA Flight 847 emerge from the plane at Beirut airport. (Nabil Ismail/AFP)

The arrest in Greece of a Lebanese man accused of involvement in a 1985 plane hijacking by Hezbollah is a case of mistaken identity, Lebanese officials said on Monday.

Greek authorities detained the 65-year-old man last week on the island of Mykonos.

They said there was a European arrest warrant issued by Germany against him for his suspected involvement in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the murder of an American passenger.

A Lebanese diplomatic official and a security official, neither of whom wanted to be named, identified the man in Greek custody as Mohamed Ali Saleh.

Mohammed Ali Hammadi in 2005. (FBI/Public Domain)

Saleh has a nearly identical name to the suspected Lebanese hijacker, but his father’s name does not match that of the suspect, the diplomatic source said.

Both sources told AFP the arrest was a case of “mistaken identity.”

Lebanese authorities have already reached out to Athens to clarify the situation, the diplomatic official said.

Germany is expected to announce a decision regarding Saleh’s release later on Monday, the same source said.

Greek police on Monday told AFP that they have asked Germany to confirm the identity of the arrested man.

The TWA 847 Flight was commandeered by hijackers shortly after taking off from Athens on June 14, 1985, demanding the release of 700 Shiite 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.

A TWA Boeing 727-200 identical to the aircraft involved in the 1985 Hezbollah hijacking of TWA Flight 847. (Felix Goetting/Wikipedia)

Though Greek police refused to release the suspect’s name, 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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