The parents of Mohammed Ali Hamadi testified at his trial Tuesday, with his father saying the confessed hijacker was under 21 at the time of the incident and his mother saying he was innocent.
The defendant burst into tears when his mother entered the courtroom.
Hamadi, a Lebanese Shia Muslim, is charged with murder and air piracy in the June, 1985, hijacking of a TWA jetliner to Beirut. U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, 23, was killed and 39 Americans were held hostage for 17 days.
Stethem’s parents also attended the trial Tuesday. His father, Richard, took notes and his mother, Patricia, watched the proceedings with little show of emotion.
Chief Judge Heiner Mueckenberger told Hamadi’s mother, Fatima, that relatives can refuse to testify “because it’s easy to give false statements out of love.”
She replied: “I know that my son is innocent. I know that he’s very young and that we live under terrible conditions” in Beirut.
Hamadi has admitted taking part in the hijacking but denied killing Stethem.
Fatima Hamadi and her 59-year-old husband, Ali Hassan, traveled to Frankfurt from Beirut last week to testify. Ali Hassan Hamadi testified that his son fought with the Shia Muslim militia Amal in Beirut “because war had begun and everyone fought.”
“Mohammed was injured in the fighting,” said the father. “He was hit in the head and we all thought we had lost him.”
The judge asked Ali Hassan Hamadi about the work of Mohammed’s older brother, Abdul Hadi Hamadi, Beirut security chief for the Shia group Hezbollah, which is allied with Iran and is believed to be an umbrella group for those holding foreign hostages in Lebanon.
“I know about Amal and I know about Hezbollah, but I don’t know who works for them and I’m not interested,” the father said.
Court records show Mohammed Hamadi was born June 13, 1964. The father, when asked the birth date, said:
“He was born on Lebanon’s Independence Day, Nov. 22, in 1964. I can remember because it’s a holiday, and I did not have to work that day.”
His age at the time of the hijacking--whether he was an adult--is important in determining the length of the prison sentence.
If it is determined that he was 21 at the time of the hijacking, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison; if it is found that he was younger at the time of the crime, the maximum sentence is 15 years in prison.