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Fire Reportedly Killed Most on Egyptian Plane

From Times Wire Services

Autopsies completed on more than half of the EgyptAir hijacking victims show that almost all died in the smoke and flames that swept through the cabin after commandos stormed the plane, sources here said Wednesday.

The sources, including one who saw autopsy reports and another who was involved in the examinations, said 30 autopsies had been performed by Wednesday evening and they showed that only three people died of bullet wounds and the others from burns and smoke inhalation.

The Maltese government, which gave permission for the Egyptian commando assault on the plane, has said the fire was started by the terrorists’ grenades and not by the rescuing troops when they blasted their way in through the cargo hold.

Unanswered Question

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However, a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity when asked about the fire, said: “I think that question remains to be answered. It doesn’t look like it had anything to do with grenades.”

One of the autopsies performed was on Scarlett M. Rogenkamp, a 38-year-old California native who worked as a civilian employee of the U.S. Air Force. She was shot by the hijackers and her body thrown off the plane hours before the commando attack that ended the 22-hour standoff at Valletta’s Luqa Airport on Sunday night.

The autopsy sources said the exam showed that she was shot in the face and that the bullet exited through the top of her skull.

Meanwhile, Egypt asked that Malta extradite the sole surviving hijacker of the Boeing 737, which was commandeered Saturday night shortly after it left Athens for Cairo.

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Maltese Briefing

Maltese government spokesman Paul Mifsud said the man believed to be the sole surviving hijacker is conscious and under intensive care. He said he did not know if magistrates on Wednesday have questioned him further. Mifsud also did not know if a link to Libya is being investigated by his government. Nonaligned Malta has good relations with Libya.

Maltese officials on Tuesday said the hijacker has identified himself as a 20-year-old Tunisian, Omar Marzouki.

An Egyptian statement Wednesday said that the extradition request was made so that Marzouki “can be tried under Egyptian law, since this is Egypt’s right under international law.”

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Egypt’s state security prosecutor, Ragaa Arabi, said that Marzouki, if extradited, could face charges of murder, espionage and endangering transportation, with penalties ranging from death to lengthy imprisonment.

One of the hijacked flight’s passengers, Tony Lyons, 36, of Melbourne, Australia, said Wednesday night that he had identified the wounded suspect as one of the men who pirated the plane.

“I sat next to him as we took off,” he said by telephone from an Australian hospital where he is being treated for smoke inhalation. “He was in 2C and I was in 2B. That’s how I know who he was.”

He said he did not talk to the suspect. “He seemed to be a bit nervous before takeoff, but I put that down to fear of flying.”

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Lyons described him as a having a thin face, very dark eyes and dark rings around his eyes, “like he had not slept for a long time.”

Joel Levy, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Malta, said Wednesday there is no new information on why the hijackers commandeered the plane or who they were. What “makes it so difficult is that the hijackers didn’t say anything about themselves,” Levy remarked. “You can have groups in other countries claiming things, but it’s hard to prove.”

Israeli Pronounced Dead

Fifty-eight people were killed when Egyptian commandos stormed the jetliner Sunday and the hijackers detonated grenades in the cabin. Two others, Rogenkamp and an Egyptian security guard, were killed earlier. A 61st victim, an Israeli woman, who was also shot by the hijackers before the plane was stormed, was pronounced clinically dead--irrevocably brain dead--late Tuesday.

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Libya denied again Wednesday that it was involved in the hijacking, in a government statement distributed by its official news agency.

Col. Moammar Kadafi repeated the denial in an interview on the Public Broadcasting Service’s “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour.”

“It is very strange to look for any relation between Libya and this . . . event. . . . I am sure, there is no relationship between Libya and this hijacking,” the Libyan strongman said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak charged Tuesday that Libya’s connection to the hijacking was “very clear,” but he did not offer proof.

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On Wednesday, the State Department suggested a possible Libyan role but would not go as far as Mubarak did. Spokesman Charles Redman said some of the evidence gathered from the hijacking points to a possible Libyan connection, but he added, “We have not reached a firm conclusion. . . .”

Mistaken Identity

Amid the tragedy, there was a light note. On Tuesday, Mubarak, hearing that longtime Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal had claimed responsibility for the hijacking, said he knew exactly where to find Nidal, a Libyan-backed Palestinian radical.

(He) “is in Libya at the moment, staying Room 401 of the Grand Hotel,” Mubarak assured reporters.

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It turned out Wednesday that the guest in Room 401 was indeed well known, but not that way.

He was identified by Agence France-Presse as Benoit Ngom, a well-known Senegalese jurist, who is in Tripoli among 200 delegates attending an international conference. Ngom, to his consternation, was bombarded with phone calls from around the world asking whether he was in fact Abu Nidal, the elusive guerrilla.


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