Body Dumped in Beirut May Be That of American Officer
A partly decomposed body was found dumped along a road, and officials said Sunday it could be the remains of slain American hostage Lt. Col. William R. Higgins.
The coroner general examined the body at American University Hospital, but the findings will not be made public until the report is submitted to the government today, a senior official at the hospital said.
A hospital administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the coroner’s examination, said it was suspected that the body was that of Higgins.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said he had not been notified and that it was premature to say that it was Higgins’ body, based on a reporter’s description of the remains.
A reporter was shown a naked, fair-skinned body with a crew cut and bloodstains on the neck in the hospital’s morgue.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Mike Thurwager, said he has no confirmation that the body was Higgins’ or even that of an American. Judy Smith, deputy White House press secretary, said: “We’ve seen the reports. We have no details and no confirmation yet.”
U.N. officials in New York did not answer their phones. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said Friday that he expected Higgins’ body to be returned within days.
Higgins, of Danville, Ky., commanded a 76-member U.N. observer group monitoring the Lebanon-Israel border. Taken prisoner Feb. 17, 1988, he was the last American to be taken hostage after Westerners became the target of Shiite Muslim kidnapers in 1984.
His abductors, the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, released a videotape on July 31, 1989, showing a hanged man they claimed was Higgins. They said he was killed in retaliation for Israel’s abduction of a Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheik Abdel-Karim Obeid, three days before.
The FBI said at the time that it appeared the man was Higgins, but U.S. sources said the agency’s analysis of the tape indicated death had not been caused by hanging. U.N. sources in Lebanon have said they believed Higgins died of torture in December, 1988, after an escape attempt.
The body at the hospital was found late Saturday after an anonymous phone call led officers to a beige and wool blanket covering the remains lying on a street, police said.
Mary Higgins Fisher, 51, who lives near Louisville, Ky., said she doubts the remains are those of her brother.
“I have just never believed anything (his kidnapers) have said. I have always held out that little bit of hope that they wouldn’t do something like that to him,” she said.