Lebanon slams U.S. request to hand over alleged Hizbullah hijacker
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Thursday, December 22, 2005
BEIRUT: The Lebanese government has criticized the U.S. demand that Lebanon hand over an alleged Hizbullah hijacker released by Germany last week after serving 19 years in jail for hijacking a U.S. airliner and killing an American passenger. "Originally they [the U.S. government] could have requested that Germany hand him over. Why are they asking us?" Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told reporters Wednesday.
Mohammad Ali Hammadi, 41, from the southern town of Deir Kifa, returned to Lebanon after serving 19 years in a German jail after being sentenced to life imprisonment by a German courting 1987 for his role in the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner and the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem in Beirut.
"He served his sentence in Germany and there are measures that will be completed in Lebanon ... Why are they asking us now?" said Siniora.
According to The Daily Star sources, Hammadi was freed quietly 10 days ago but his return to Lebanon was delayed because of the recent assassination of journalist Gebran Tueni, and hence he arrived Thursday last week, despite objections from Washington, which has vowed to bring him from Lebanon to face a U.S. judge.
Recently, on the 20th anniversary of the "terrorist hijacking operation," the U.S. government offered a reward of up to $5 million for information on the whereabouts of the TWA 847 hijackers, where it named the suspects that "are thought to be in Lebanon or Syria" and "need to be brought to justice,": Imad Fayez Mugniyeh, Hassan Izz-al-Din and Ali Atwaa.
Siniora said Hammadi had already served a term "close" to what he would have faced if he had been convicted in Lebanon.
He also said the Lebanese Judiciary was exploring whether his crime was covered by the general amnesty issued for crimes committed before 1991.
The Lebanese Justice Ministry released a short statement Wednesday in which it said that it would "study" Hammadi's status in Lebanon "according to Lebanese laws."
When contacted by The Daily Star, on the effect of Hammadi's case on Lebanese and American relations, especially if Hammadi is not handed over to the United States as demanded, neither Lebanese nor U.S. officials would comment.
To this date, Lebanon and the United States are not bound by an extradition treaty.
Contrary to speculations, George Assaf, a lawyer specializing in international law told The Daily Star, that "Hammadi's case is unlikely to be covered under the general amnesty law and hence the United States will come after the case."
"I suspect that the U.S. will try to bring different charges and prosecute him that way, as he already served a sentence and can't be judged on the same crime twice," said Assaf, who feels that Hammadi's release was "more political" in the first place.
"Before the incident in Iraq involving the release of a German hostage, there were no procedures being taken in Germany for his release," said Assaf, who explained that under German law, those convicted become eligible for release after serving 15 years and are reviewed by a parole court.
As for sending Hammadi directly to U.S. from Germany, Assaf said that Germany and any European country would reject a U.S. request for Hammadi's extradition on the grounds that he could have faced capital punishment in the U.S., which is against the European Law on the Convention of Human Rights.
Germany, an important broker between Hizbullah and Israeli officials over the issue of detainees in Israel and exchange of prisoners between the two sides, has denied any links between the two cases of the released German hostage, Susanne Osthoff, and Hammadi.
Lebanon's Al-Mustaqbal daily quoted diplomatic sources as saying Wednesday that Hammadi's release was part of a German mediation for a Hizbullah-Israeli prisoner swap, including missing Israeli navigator Ron Arad.
Meanwhile judiciary sources said that the Public Prosecutor of the Cassation Court in Lebanon, Saeed Mirza has denied Hammadi was being held temporarily in custody.
"Hammadi is not being sought after by Lebanese Judiciary and the judiciary didn't receive any official requests from the U.S. in that regards," said the sources.
At the same time, Hizbullah officials in Lebanon who would not confirm or deny Hammadi's links to Hizbullah, issued an official statement in which they confirmed his return to Lebanon, without any further elaboration.
Hammadi's brother, Abdel-Hadi, who is a senior special security official within Hizbullah, has been reported to have Hammadi residing in his home, was not available for comment. TWA flight 847 from Athens, Greece, to Rome was hijacked in June 1985 to Beirut, where the hijackers beat and shot Stethem, 23, of Waldorf, Maryland, and dumped his body on the tarmac. - With agencies
Clever, clever bastards, uh? - The "ever vigilant" 801