A mysterious woman Arab terrorist flew on a TWA jetliner hours before a bomb blasted a hole in the plane’s cabin over Greece, hurling four Americans to their deaths, and officials today said they believe she planted the explosive device.
A pro-Libyan Palestinian terrorist group called the Arab Revolutionary Cells claimed responsibility for the attack Wednesday on the Boeing 727, which was flying between Rome and Athens when a bomb exploded in the passenger cabin.
But Greek and Italian authorities said they are seeking a female Arab terrorist for the attack. She was identified in Athens as May Mansour.
Boarded in Cairo
Police sources in Athens and Rome said Mansour is believed to have boarded the TWA jet in Cairo for the flight to Athens and Rome earlier Wednesday.
Mansour left the aircraft at the Greek capital before it flew on to Rome, where it picked up the 112 passengers and began the return flight to Athens and Cairo, the police sources said.
Before leaving the TWA jet, investigators believe, Mansour planted the bomb, hidden in carry-on luggage, under a seat in Row 10 in the front of the passenger cabin.
After a 2 1/2-hour layover at Athens, the woman boarded a Middle East Airlines flight, Lebanon’s national carrier, and headed to Beirut, police sources said. Mansour was identified through her airline ticket to Beirut.
In Same Seat
Italian Interior Minister Oscar Luigi Scalfaro told reporters the suspect “was occupying the exact same seat (10F) where the explosion happened later.
“It is certain that a suspect known to be a terrorist boarded at Cairo and left at Athens,” he said.
Four Americans, including a 3-month-old baby, were sucked through a hole created by the blast as the cabin pressure abruptly dropped in the TWA plane. Their bodies were found by a shepherd in southern Greece.
The plane’s pilot, Capt. Richard Petersen, made an emergency landing at Hellinikon International Airport in Athens 44 minutes after the explosion.
The plane was carrying 112 passengers--as many as 90 of them Americans--and a seven-member crew. Nine passengers, at least three of them Americans, were injured in the explosion. Four of them remained in Greek hospitals today.
May Have Been Plastic
It was unclear how a bomb could have been smuggled on board. But anti-terrorist police said they believe a plastic explosive was used in the attack, since it can be carried without detection through screening equipment and past dogs trained to locate explosives at airports.
The jet was inspected before leaving Rome by a private security firm working for TWA, sources said.
In Cairo, an Egyptian official dismissed the report that Mansour boarded the plane in Cairo carrying explosives as a “silly story.”
But sources at Cairo airport said the Boeing 727 left Cairo early Wednesday with 17 passengers on board, including a Lebanese woman identified as May Elias Mansour.
Woman Not Well Known
Little is known about Mansour. Police identified her as an Arab and an explosives expert, but they said they do not know to which group Mansour belongs or her nationality, although some said she might be Lebanese.
She is suspected of involvement in several other airline bomb attacks.
Italian police sources said Mansour is believed to have planted explosives in baggage on an Alitalia jetliner at Istanbul airport in December, 1983. The baggage was taken off the plane before it left and the bomb, planted in a pack of cigarettes, was defused.