Today in History: Hijackers take plane in search of Jews

On 14 June, 1985, Trans World Airlines (TWA) Flight 847 from Athens to Rome was hijacked by Shiite Hezbollah terrorists who immediately demanded to know the identity of “those with Jewish-sounding names.”

Once on the ground, the hijackers called for passengers with Israeli passports, but there were none. Nor were there any diplomats on board.

They then focused their attention on the several U.S. Navy construction divers aboard the plane. Soon after landing, they killed Navy diver, Robert Stethem, and dumped his body on the runway.

An armed terrorist holds a gun on TWA Flight 847 Captain John Testrake during an interview. Image: Dallas Morning News.

TWA employee Uli Derickson was largely successful in protecting the few Jewish passengers aboard by refusing to identify them. Most of the passengers were released in the early hours of what turned out to be a 17-day ordeal, but five men were singled out and separated from the rest of the hostages.

Of these five, only Richard Herzberg, an American, was Jewish.

During the next two weeks, Herzberg maintained to his attackers that he was a Lutheran of German and Greek ancestry.

Along with the others, he was taken to a roach-infested holding cell somewhere in Beirut, where other Lebanese prisoners were being held. Fortunately, the TWA hostages were treated fairly well.

On June 30, after careful negotiations, the hostages were released unharmed.

Since the terrorists were effectively outside the law’s reach in Lebanon, it appeared as though they would go free, without punishment. However, Mohammed Ali Hammadi, who was wanted for his role in the attack, was arrested nearly two years later at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, while carrying explosives.

Within days of his arrest, two German citizens were kidnapped in Lebanon, in an attempt to discourage Germany from extraditing Hammadi to the United States for prosecution. Germany decided to try Hammadi instead, and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the maximum penalty under German law.

He was released on parole in 2005 after serving 19 years.

Since then, the United States has unsuccessfully petitioned for his extradition from Lebanon.

Despite unconfirmed reports that Hammadi was killed by a CIA drone in Pakistan in June 2010, he remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List along with his surviving accomplices.

Do you perhaps have more information pertaining to this story? Email us at northsider@caxton.co.za  (remember to include your contact details) or phone us on 011 955 1130.

For free daily local news on the West Rand, also visit our sister newspaper websites 

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Randfontein Herald

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  AUTHOR
Blake Linder
Journalist

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