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Greek police arrest TWA Flight 847 hijacking suspect

Greek police said Saturday they've arrested a 65-year-old Lebanese man on suspicion of being involved in the 1985 hijacking of American airliner Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 847, AP first reported.

Why it matters: U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, 23, was tortured and shot to death after the U.S.-bound plane was hijacked soon after takeoff from Athens. The other 146 passengers and crew members aboard endured a days-long ordeal before being released, AP notes.

President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy greeting former hostages of TWA flight 847 as they debark from plane at Andrews Air Force Base.
President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan greet former hostages of TWA flight 847 as they debark from plane at Andrews Air Force Base. Photo: Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images
  • The plane stopped off in Beirut and Algiers after being hijacked on June 14, 1985, and it wasn't until 17 days later that the last hostage was freed.

What's happening: The suspect was being held in the Korydallos high security prison in Athens while awaiting extradition proceedings, a police spokeswoman told AP.

  • Police declined to identify the suspect, but Lebanon's Foreign Ministry told AP the detained man is Lebanese journalist Mohammed Saleh. However, Greek news outlets reported the detainee was Mohammed Ali Hammadi — who remains on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

The big picture: Flight 847 originated in Cairo and had scheduled stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles, with San Diego as its final destination. The hijackers had demanded the release of 700 Shi'ite Muslims from Israeli custody, according to Time Magazine.

  • Hamadei is a suspected member of Hezbollah. He was arrested in Frankfurt in 1987 and later convicted and sentenced to life in prison in Germany over the hijacking and Stethem’s death, before being paroled in 2005 and returned to Lebanon, per the Washington Post.
  • Germany decided not to extradite Hamadei to the U.S. after Hezbollah abducted 2 German citizens in Beirut and threatened to kill them, AP notes.