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Context of 'June 14-30, 1985: TWA Flight 847 Hijacked; US Naval Diver Murdered'

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Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847.Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847. [Source: Time]Islamic militants with the Shi’ite Amal group, an affiliate of Hezbollah, hijack TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome. 135 of the 153 passengers are Americans.
Demanding Release of Militant Prisoners - The hijackers demand the immediate release of 17 members of a Shi’ite militant group, Al Dawa, who were arrested in Kuwait for the December 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Kuwait City. (This group, the “Kuwait 17,” features prominently in other hijackers’ demands as well. They will accidentally be released during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.) The hijackers also demand the release of some 700 fellow Shi’ite Muslim prisoners held in Israeli prisons and in prisons in southern Lebanon run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Navy Diver Murdered - The TWA pilot is forced to fly to Beirut, Lebanon, where, after their demands are not met, the hijackers shoot and trample Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem to death and dump his body on the tarmac. The plane is flown to Algiers and then back to Beirut again. Most of the passengers are released, but 39 are held captive in Lebanon. President Reagan holds a press conference largely focusing on the hostage crisis, and says that the US will never give in to terrorist demands.
Hostages Freed - After intervention by Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, the remaining 39 hostages are freed on June 30 in Damascus; the hijackers are allowed to escape. Some of the hostages later compliment their captors for treating them well during their captivity. Nothing is ever confirmed, but speculation is widespread that some sort of quiet deal between Israel and the hijackers has been struck, as Israel begins releasing Shi’ite prisoners immediately after the hostages’ release. The US will deny that any such deal was ever made. In 1985, four of the hijackers will be indicted for their participation in the TWA takeover, but only one will ever be convicted. [PBS, 2000; PBS Frontline, 10/4/2001; BBC, 2008]

Entity Tags: Robert Dean Stethem, Hafiz al-Assad, Amal, ’Kuwait 17’, Ronald Reagan, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

A group of US agencies, comprising the CIA, FBI, DEA, and Defense Department, cooperates on the capture and rendition of Fawaz Younis, an Islamic militant linked to Lebanon’s Amal militia who was previously involved in two airplane hijackings.
Arrested, Transferred to US - Younis is captured after being lured to a boat in international waters off Cyprus. He is then arrested and transferred to an aircraft carrier, from where he is flown directly to the US. The operation, which costs US$20 million, is so complicated because of rules set by the Justice Department. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94] Author Stephen Grey will call the rules “very tight.” CIA manager Duane Clarridge will say, “This meant that Yunis had to be apprehended by the FBI in international waters or airspace, remain in constant custody of the feds, and remain clear of the turf of any sovereign nation—for the entire duration of his 4,000-mile journey to the United States.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134]
Details of Hijackings - In the first hijacking, Younis seized a plane in Beirut and attempted to fly it to Tunis, where the Arab League was meeting. The aim was to pressure the League into urging the Palestine Liberation Organization to leave Lebanon, as relations between it and local people had deteriorated. In the second hijacking, which took place five days later, the plane was seized by a team from Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, who beat the passengers and shot one of them, US Navy diver Robert Stethem. Posing as a crewman during a stopover in Beirut, Younis entered the plane and took control of the hijacking. The passengers were removed from the plane in groups, and dispersed through Beirut. They were later released in return for safe passage for the hijackers (see June 14-30, 1985).
Lured by Informant - The man who lured Younis to the boat is Jamal Hamdan, who had previously worked with the CIA on a false flag operation in Germany (see After Mid-April 1986). Authors Joe and Susan Trento will describe Hamdan as “a street hustler, murderer and drug dealer,” adding, “Hamdan’s Beirut police file is impressive.” Thanks to his connection to Amal, Hamdan was able to operate for a time despite his killings, but in 1985 he murdered a senior Druze official and then his sister-in-law, leading to his imprisonment. Amal leader and US intelligence asset Nabih Berri informed the US that Hamdan could help them with some drug cases, and he began providing the DEA and CIA with information about US-based drug dealers, which got him released from prison.
Deal for Asylum - In return for helping the operation to capture Younis, dubbed operation Goldenrod, Hamdan insisted on “huge cash payments” and asylum for himself and his family in the US. The Trentos will comment, “In other words, the FBI arranged to bring into our country a murderer and terrorist in return for the capture of an airplane hijacker who had never killed any Americans.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jamal Hamdan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Duane Clarridge, Amal, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Fawaz Younis, Stephen Grey

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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