Washington protests the release of Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a Lebanese militant who served nearly 19 years of a life sentence for the attack on a TWA jet and the killing of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem
BERLIN -- The German government disclosed Tuesday that it recently freed a Hezbollah member who was convicted of hijacking a TWA airliner in 1985, allowing him to return to his native Lebanon despite long-standing requests from the United States to hand him over for trial.
Mohammed Ali Hamadi, 41, walked out of a German prison on Thursday after a parole board concluded that he was eligible for early release, German officials said. His discharge brought a protest from the State Department.
Hamadi served nearly 19 years of a life sentence for air piracy, possession of explosives and the murder of Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. sailor. Stethem, a passenger aboard TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome, was singled out for brutal treatment because of his military service.
Organized by the radical Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, the hijacking was one of the most publicized terrorist attacks on a U.S. target in the 1980s.
The German government said Hamadi's parole had nothing to do with the case of a German hostage in Iraq who was let go by her captors Sunday. A brother of Hamadi was convicted in the late 1980s of kidnapping Westerners in the Middle East in an attempt to pressure German authorities to release him.
The family of the American Navy petty officer, who was beaten and fatally shot by the hijackers, expressed disappointment Tuesday that one of his killers was free. "To have commuted his sentence--it just doesn't make sense," his mother, Patricia Stethem, said.
The State Department said Tuesday that the U.S government wants to put Hamadi on trial, based on a 1985 indictment. Three other Lebanese men named in the indictment remain at large and are on the FBI's most-wanted list of terrorist suspects, with $5 million rewards for their capture.
Current and former U.S. officials said they had pushed for two decades to gain custody and try Hamadi in a U.S. courtroom but ran into political and legal resistance from Germany. U.S. prosecutors originally sought Hamadi's extradition after he was arrested at the Frankfurt airport in 1987, but Germany denied the request and put him on trial instead.
"We were certainly disappointed at the time that we didn't get our hands on him then, and we are disappointed now that he has been released before the end of his full sentence," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.
A spokeswoman for the German Justice Ministry said there were no pending requests for Hamadi's extradition at the time of his release.
Legal experts said it is doubtful that Germany could have transferred him to U.S. custody anyway. Under German law, defendants cannot be retried for crimes on which they had already been convicted, even if they are prosecuted in another country. Lebanon does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
Court officials in Frankfurt said Hamadi was freed after a regularly scheduled review of his case by parole officials. They wouldn't say why they waited to make the decision public until after he was back in Lebanon.
The German hostage freed in Iraq on Sunday was Susanne Osthoff, an Arabic-speaking archeologist. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman denied the two cases were linked.
Hamadi is a member of an influential Lebanese family that is active in Hezbollah, which was blamed for a wave of kidnappings in the 1980s.
His brother, Abbas Hamadi, was arrested in Germany in 1987 and convicted the following year of helping to kidnap two German businessmen in a bid to use them as bargaining chips for Mohammed Hamadi's freedom. Abbas Hamadi was released in 1993 after serving half his sentence.
At the time, German media reported he was let go as part of a deal between the German government and Hezbollah to release two other Germans held hostage in Lebanon. German officials denied it.
Flight 847 was flying with 145 passengers and nine crew members on June 14, 1985, when it was hijacked by militants demanding the release of hundreds of Lebanese from Israeli jails. The plane landed in Beirut three times before it was finally allowed to remain there.
The ordeal produced one of the most enduring images of terrorism: the unflappable TWA pilot, John Testrake, leaning out of the cockpit as a hijacker waved a pistol.
Stethem was the only passenger to die, although others were beaten. The other passengers were freed in stages, either in Beirut or Algiers.
A final group of 39 passengers was taken off the plane June 16 and held at locations in Beirut, where they remained captives until June 30. The siege ended after Israel announced the release of 31 Lebanese prisoners--though Israel and the United States insisted the release was not connected to the hijacking.
Why do we ever bother dealing with europe anymore?
Have you been in hibernation? That was like weeks ago.