Suspect Arrested 34 Years After A TWA Flight Was Hijacked

A Lebanese man wanted for taking part in the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 has been arrested by Greek police according to the BBC. Greek police revealed on Saturday that a 65-year-old Lebanese man had been arrested after getting off a cruise ship on the island of Mykonos two days earlier.

TWA was on route from Athens to Rome when it was hijacked. Photo: clipperarctic Wikipedia Commons

According to Reuters, when Greek customs officers checked his passport, his name came up as being wanted in Germany.

The German arrest warrant is for a man wanted in connection with the TWA high jacking and also for kidnappings that took place in 1987. Until German authorities can determine his identity, he is being held in a Greek high-security prison in Athens.

Two years after the 1985 hijacking, the suspect, who Greek media name as Mohammed Ali Hammadi, was apprehended and imprisoned in Germany.

In 2005, the German government did a deal with a Lebanese terrorist organization (believed to be Hezbollah) to trade Mohammed Ali Hammadi and his brother Abbas Ali Hamadi for two German citizens that had been abducted in West Beirut.

At the time, the German government denied that they had swapped the brothers for the two German hostages.

TWA flight 847 was flying from Cairo to San Diego

Trans World Airlines flight 847 was on route to San Diego from Cairo on June 14th, 1985 with stops in Athens, Rome, Boston, and Los Angeles.

TWA hijacking Beirut 1985
The TWA hijacking lasted 17 days. Photo: Felix Goetting Wikipedia

The flight had just departed Athens for Rome after an uneventful flight from Cairo when hijackers commandeered the aircraft and told the captain to take them to Beirut.

Initially, Lebanese air traffic control refused to let them land until captain John Testrake told them the hijackers had a grenade and were going to blow up the plane.

Why fly to Beirut?

Once on the ground at Beirut International Airport, the hijackers released 19 of their 153 hostages in exchange for fuel. Over the next 17 days, the world watched as the plane flew back and forth between Beirut and Algiers.

Suspect Arrested 34 Years After A TWA Flight Was Hijacked
Beirut Airport was the perfect place to take a hijacked plane. Photo: James Case Wikipedia Commons

Given Lebanon’s Civil War and the country being divided up between Christian and Muslim militias, it was an obvious destination from where the hijackers could make their demands and disappear into the city.

Beirut International Airport is located in the western half of the city and was at the time controlled by the local Amal and Hezbollah militias. With no perimeter fences and security, militia members could simply drive on to the airport at will, making it a perfect destination for the hijackers.

The hijackers were demanding the release of Lebanese prisoners being held in Israel

The hijackers were demanding the release of 700 Lebanese Shia prisoners that were being held in Israel. When their demands were not met, they killed American sailor Robert Stethem and dumped his body on the airport tarmac.

US NAVY sailor Robert Stethem
The US Navy named a guided-missile-destroyer USS Stethem following the murder of Robert Stethem. Photo: Ensign Danny Ewing Jr. Wikimedia Commons.

Eventually, some sort of deal was agreed upon and the hostages were released. Several weeks later, Israel released 700 Lebanese prisoners, while maintaining it had nothing to do with the hijacking.

The remaining three hijackers are still at large, with a $5 million bounty on their heads for information that leads to an arrest.