ATHENS — Police hunted today for a mystery woman suspected of concealing under her plane seat the bomb that later ripped open a TWA jet and killed four Americans.
"We're trying to track down anyone who may have noticed the woman on the Cairo-Athens leg of the flight," said Nikos Kokkinakis, a senior Greek security police officer.
Kokkinakis said the woman in seat 10-F may have concealed plastic explosives in the life preserver under her seat during a Cairo-to-Athens flight Wednesday--about eight hours before the Boeing 727 was torn by the blast while returning to Athens from Rome with 122 people aboard.
One of the four killed, Alberto Ospina, was sitting in seat 10-F. The plane landed safely in Athens.
Kept Tray Down
In Rome, the Italian news agency ANSA said that passengers on the Cairo-to-Athens flight told authorities the woman in seat 10-F kept her tray table down throughout the flight, and that investigators believed this was done to conceal her actions.
The pilot later told reporters the crew does not customarily check all life preservers between flights.
Egypt's government-run newspaper Al-Ahram quoted Maj. Gen. Hosni Farag, the Interior Ministry assistant for the Cairo airport, as saying that a Lebanese woman about 30 years old who used the name May Elias Mansur completed boarding procedures later than the other passengers.
Nevertheless, Egyptian officials said she was searched thoroughly before boarding in Cairo.
The mystery surrounding the woman's true identity deepened today. In the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, a statement issued in the name of May Elias Mansur denied any involvement in the bombing.
The statement, delivered to news organizations, said Mansur would sue those "who falsely accused" her of involvement in something she "had nothing to do with." There was no way to authenticate the statement.
Kokkinakis said Italy had informed Greek authorities that the mystery passenger was a Lebanese citizen carrying a Jordanian passport. Jordan said today it had no information on the passport.
Egypt's Tourism Ministry confirmed that a May Mansur boarded the plane at Cairo, having arrived there on March 25. But a spokesman also insisted that full luggage checks and a body search were made, "so it's very funny that this lady smuggled this bomb in."
Went to Lounge
Kokkinakis said the woman got off in Athens and immediately went to the airport transit lounge, where she did not have to face customs, immigration or a major security check--and where she presumably was present when Flight 840 from Rome safely touched down a few hundred yards away.
About an hour later, she boarded a Middle East Airlines flight to Beirut, where her trail vanished.
"We've sent out a signal to trace her through Interpol, but don't expect any information back immediately," he said.
U.S. officials said Mansur, who Italian authorities described as a terrorist explosives expert, was a member of the shadowy Palestinian group May 15, CBS News said today.
Impossible to Detect
The terrorist group has developed a suitcase bomb virtually impossible to detect with airport electronic equipment and is believed responsible for the bombing of a Pan Am jetliner in 1982 that killed one man, the network said.
Greek news reports last month said five Arab terrorists--three in Athens and two in Cyprus--were preparing to attack an American airliner. The reports said the information was given to Greece by officials of British Airways.