Arabs Seize U.S. Airliner; 1 Killed : American Shot as TWA Jet With 100 Hostages Stops in Beirut
Two Arab gunmen seized a TWA jetliner Friday with more than 100 Americans aboard and forced it on a terror-filled odyssey, returning early today to Beirut where the pilot said they killed an American passenger reported to be U.S. Marine.
The plane took off again from Beirut three hours and 20 minutes later for a second flight to Algeria, airport officials here said. The pilot was heard telling the control tower he was taking off for Algiers and had barely enough fuel to make it.
Defense sources in Washington had earlier speculated that the plane was headed for Iran.
There were reports that earlier a second man was shot and wounded in the neck, and a number of passengers were beaten by the hijackers.
Some Washington sources earlier confirmed that the dead American in the Lebanese capital was a Marine but a Corps spokesman later said there were no Marines on the flight. The victim was shot aboard the red-and-white jetliner shortly after it landed in Beirut for the second time at 2:20 a.m. today with just one or two minutes of fuel left. His body was then hurled onto the tarmac.
153 Passengers and Crew
At the time of the hijacking there were 145 passengers and a crew of eight aboard the Boeing 727 jetliner. During an initial stop in Beirut, the hijackers freed 19 passengers--17 women and two children. The plane then flew to Algiers, the Algerian capital, where another 19 passengers were released. In all, 33 of the freed passengers were American.
There were just about 100 passengers on the commandeered plane’s latest flight.
The Christian-controlled Voice of Lebanon radio in Beirut, without giving a source, said 12 Israelis were aboard. A U.S. official said there were 12 passengers of “unknown nationality.” The Israeli government would not comment on this or the hijackers’ demands.
NBC and CBS reported that “Delta Force,” a special anti-terrorist team of several hundred military personnel based at Ft. Bragg, N.C., had been deployed to the Middle East, possibly as part of a rescue attempt. The Pentagon and the White House would not comment on the reports. But President Reagan said in Washington, “We’re doing everything we can do” to get the hostages released.
Failed 1980 Rescue Attempt
Members of “Delta Force” were involved in the failed attempt in March, 1980, to rescue American hostages in Iran.
A Christian Lebanese radio station reported that Israeli fighter planes tracked the hijacked plane earlier in the day and it was believed that they might be tailing it on its latest flight.
Lebanese Militia sources said the hijackers feared some sort of action against them if they stayed on the ground in Beirut too long. Witnesses said the gunmen fired at Shia Muslim Amal militiamen who came too near the plane.
The hijackers, said to be members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, threatened to blow up the jetliner the first time it circled Beirut on Friday when told the airport was closed. The 727 then was allowed to land but left later for Algeria, then returned to Beirut, then left again.
Trans World Airlines officials said the plane was hijacked soon after it left Athens early Friday for Rome. Many of the passengers were scheduled to transfer to another flight to Boston, Los Angeles and San Diego. It was not known how many Southern Californians were among the passengers.
Demand Prisoner Release
When the jetliner returned to Lebanon early today, the hijackers repeated an earlier demand that Israel release Shia prisoners and transfer them to Lebanon under Red Cross escort, threatening to kill an American passenger every five minutes if the demands were not met, officials said.
Israel holds about 700 Lebanese, mostly Shias, in prisons in northern Israel for attacks on its forces during the withdrawal from southern Lebanon.
“I don’t want to talk to you, I’ll only talk to (the Shia Muslim) Amal (militia),” one hijacker told an army negotiator in the control tower. “You are trying to gain time, you don’t believe me.”
“Well, take this (U.S.) Marine, one of the Marines who shelled national Beirut,” said a hijacker, moments before witnesses saw a man shot between the eyes aboard the plane and his body shoved through the door.
The hijacker was referring to the shelling of the mountains southeast of Beirut by the battleship New Jersey in 1983 when U.S. service personnel participated in a U.N. multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
The hijackers demanded an Amal official come to within 25 yards of the plane to negotiate with them, and Amal security officer Bassam Tleiss and a bodyguard drove to the airport. Reporters were unable to hear what was said.
As the negotiations continued, one hijacker demanded all airport lights be turned off. His demand was met.
Condemnation of U.S. Policy
The hijackers also insisted on a public condemnation of U.S. foreign policy, particularly Washington’s financial support of Israel, and of a bombing attack in Beirut on March 8 that killed 85 people. Muslim fundamentalists claimed the bomb attack was aimed at a Shia leader and was masterminded by Israel and the CIA.
The plane touched down for the second time in Beirut at 2:20 a.m. today after airport authorities yielded to the hijackers’ threat and turned the runway lights on.
A passenger freed in Algiers, identified as Pat Webber, about 50, said the hijackers were “hysterical. They were screaming.” She said her husband and two daughters remained aboard.
Some passengers said they heard screams from behind the closed door of the cockpit soon after a man was taken there by the hijackers, but a doctor allowed into the cockpit said “nothing serious” had happened.
It was the third hijacking this week involving the Beirut airport and the violent political antagonisms in war-torn Lebanon.
Third Man Captured
Greek police said in Athens that they captured a third air pirate, identified as Ali Atweh, a 21-year-old Lebanese.
Atweh told them he was part of a three-man team. He said his two companions smuggled two hand grenades and a 9-millimeter pistol onto the plane.
Police said Atwa carried fake Lebanese and Moroccan passports.
Before leaving Beirut the second time, the hijackers demanded that Atweh be freed or they would begin killing eight Greek passengers aboard.
“We demand that the Greek authorities immediately release Ali Atweh or else we will kill our eight Greek hostages--one every hour,” one of the hijackers said in a statement read over the plane’s radio before the jetliner took off again for an unannounced location.
The Algiers airport was closed to traffic after the hijacked plane landed Friday afternoon. Authorities initially denied permission to land but relented when told the aircraft was nearly out of fuel, the official Algerian news agency reported.
One passenger freed in Beirut, Irma Garza of Laredo, Tex., said the hijackers shot a black man, apparently a passenger, in the neck. She said the man did not appear to be in serious condition and she did not know why he was shot.
Frances Reynolds, 67, a passenger from the Chicago area, said: “There was some shooting but I didn’t dare raise my head to see what was happening. (The hijackers) were beating people on the heads. I didn’t see it, but I could hear the thumps.”
Passengers freed in Beirut were flown to Cyprus. They told reporters that two men sitting in the back of the 727 ran from their seats about 15 minutes into the flight, entered the cockpit and seized control.
Hands Behind Head
“They told us to put our hands up behind our heads and put our heads down,” said Irma Trautman of Laredo. “When we got to Beirut, my daughter and I were told to move to the front of the plane. Someone opened the door and they told us to jump and get off.” Many of those freed said they still had relatives on board.
Controllers at the Beirut airport repeatedly refused landing permission for TWA Flight 847 --to no avail.
The pilot radioed that one hijacker was brandishing a hand grenade with the pin pulled and threatening to kill everyone aboard. The plane was finally allowed to land.