Suspect Arrested in 1985 Hijacking That Killed American Sailor


ImageOne of the hijackers of TWA Flight 847 in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 26, 1985.
One of the hijackers of TWA Flight 847 in Beirut, Lebanon, on June 26, 1985.CreditCreditArnaud Borrel/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

ATHENS — The Greek police say they have arrested a suspect in the 1985 hijacking of a flight from Athens that became a multiday ordeal in which an American sailor was killed and dozens of Americans were held hostage.

A 65-year-old suspect was being held in the hijacking and a 1987 abduction, the police said Saturday. They did not release the name of the suspect, a Lebanese citizen, who they said was arrested on the island of Mykonos on Thursday.

The hijacking involved TWA Flight 847, which was commandeered shortly after takeoff from Athens on June 14, 1985, according to a police spokesman, Lt. Col. Theodoros Chronopoulos. The flight originated in Cairo and had San Diego set as a final destination, with stops scheduled in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles.

The hijackers seized the jetliner and forced its crew to make three stops in Beirut and two in Algiers. The hijackers killed a 23-year-old Navy diver, Robert Dean Stethem, and released the other 146 passengers and crew members in stages, the last after 17 days.

The suspect was in custody Saturday on the Greek island of Syros but was set to be transferred to a high-security prison in Athens for extradition proceedings, a police spokeswoman said.

Several Greek news media outlets identified the man as Mohammed Ali Hammadi, who was arrested in Frankfurt in 1987 and convicted in Germany for the hijacking and Mr. Stethem’s killing. Mr. Hammadi, believed to have been a member of Hezbollah, was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in 2005 and returned to Lebanon.

Germany resisted pressure to extradite him to the United States after Hezbollah abducted two German citizens in Beirut and threatened to kill them.

Mr. Hammadi remains on the F.B.I.’s list of most-wanted terrorists under the name Mohammed Ali Hamadei. Hasan Izz-Al-Din and Ali Atwa are also wanted in the hijacking.

Mr. Stethem was a Seabee, a member of the Naval Construction Battalions responsible for building wartime infrastructure. Both of his parents and two brothers served in the Navy as well, according to the Southern Maryland Newspapers.

At Mr. Hammadi’s trial in 1988, former hostages described the ordeal, saying Mr. Stethem was viciously beaten and shot to death. An article in The New York Times quoted an Australian passenger as saying that Mr. Stethem had said that if anyone had to be killed, he hoped it would be him, because he was still single.