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Amal was a participant or observer in the following events:
Nabih Berri in 1982. [Source: Reza / Corbis]Nabih Berri takes over the Amal Militia, a Shi’a Lebanese paramilitary organization, and tries to build it up as a power base for himself. Although not a fundamentalist Muslim, Berri allies himself with the new regime in Iran and Hezbollah, a fundamentalist Lebanese Shi’a party backed by Iran. Berri also manages to convince Syrian authorities that he will represent their interests in Lebanon and comes to a similar arrangement with the Ba’ath party in Iraq. This is a difficult balance for Berri to keep, as journalists Joe and Susan Trento will later point out, “If he displeased the Iranian mullahs who controlled the supply of money to Hezbollah in Lebanon, he would lose his grip on power.” Former intelligence officer Michael Pilgrim will comment, “Berri was targeted for CIA recruitment and so were members of his militia… I think it’s safe to say we financed his early trips to Iran.” He also commences relationships with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency. Unsurprisingly, some of the consequences of this are bad for the US, and the Trentos will comment: “The relationship would end in a series of deadly disasters for members of our armed services and the CIA. According to US intelligence officials who served in Lebanon at the time, Berri kept the peace with [Iran] and the Shi’a by allowing them to attack Westerners in his Amal-controlled territory. To prove his loyalty to the Shi’a and keep the alliance that was essential to his power base, he failed to pass on intelligence to the United States.” Based on interviews with former intelligence officers and associates of Berri, the Trentos will conclude that he facilitated attacks on the US by Hezbollah by allowing their operatives to pass Amal checkpoints without warning the US, for example before attacks on the US embassy and Marine barracks in 1983 in which hundreds die (see April 18-October 23, 1983). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 74-77]
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]
Fawaz Younis, a Lebanese militant associated with the Amal militia, a Shiite organization that is influential in Lebanon at this time, is arrested in international waters near Cyprus on September 14, 1987, during a joint FBI-CIA operation. However, US authorities fail to ask him about activities in Lebanon, such as the murders of CIA officers, kidnappings of US citizens who will later be part of an arms-for-hostages deal with Iran (see Late May, 1986), and an attack on the US Marine barracks in Beirut, where over 200 people were killed (see April 18-October 23, 1983). Authors Joe and Susan Trento will write, “The key to all these unasked questions may be that those in charge did not want to know the answers.” For example, Younis is not asked about cooperation between the Amal group, which had a covert relationship with the CIA, and Hezbollah in the bombings. One possible reason for this is that Amal head Nabih Berri has “full knowledge of the arms-for-hostages deal,” an aspect of the Iran-Contra scandal. After Younis is released in 2005, the Trentos will interview him and he will say that Amal was co-responsible for the attacks: “Nothing happened in areas we controlled without Amal’s cooperation.” He will also say that Berri ordered some of the hijackings and that he cannot understand “why the United States allowed him to get away with it.” In addition, he will comment, “Privately, people in our government will say we cannot act [against Islamic militancy] in Lebanon because Nabih Berri is a valuable US intelligence asset,” and, “That lack of action is seen by the Hezbollah as evidence of America’s lack of seriousness and resolve in the war on terror.” Regarding 9/11, he will say, “I have no doubt that our experience in breaking through airport security, developing sources and help among airport staff, was information that Hezbollah passed on to al-Qaeda.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 213, 215-7]
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]
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