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Reagan Promises Justice to Hijack Victim's Mother

June 25, 1987|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Reagan on Wednesday told the mother of a U.S. serviceman killed in a 1985 TWA hijacking that West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has assured the United States that "there will be no deal" to free the suspect being held by Bonn in the case.

"We have made every effort to assure justice in the prosecution of the hijacker, (Mohammed Ali) Hamadi. I have the personal assurance of Chancellor Kohl that justice will be done," Reagan said in a telephone call to Patricia Stethem, mother of the U.S. Navy diver killed in the incident in Beirut two years ago.

The decision by the West German government to prosecute Hamadi rather than extradite him to the United States, formally announced Wednesday, left the Reagan Administration with little choice but to encourage Bonn to carry out the prosecution to the fullest extent possible.

Under counterterrorism agreements endorsed by the major industrialized democracies at their last two summit conferences, the allies have a choice of either extraditing the suspects or prosecuting them. Also, in the Hamadi case, Reagan may have been reluctant to apply strong pressure on Kohl because the chancellor is one of the President's most loyal supporters in Europe.

But Stethem, whose son, Robert Dean Stethem, was shot during the hijacking and dumped from the aircraft at the Beirut airport, said her family was "devastated" by Reagan's inability to obtain Hamadi's extradition to the United States to face murder and kidnaping charges in this country. Her comments in a television interview prompted the call from Reagan.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the President told Stethem: "The chancellor has assured us that there will be no deal, and they will not grant him clemency. I am confident the German government will fulfill its international legal obligations, and Hamadi will get the justice he deserves."

Hamadi, a Lebanese Shia Muslim, was arrested Jan. 13 when found to be carrying liquid explosives in wine bottles as he entered West Germany. Initially, it appeared that he would be extradited to the United States to face charges stemming from the hijacking, in which 39 Americans were held captive in Beirut for 16 days after TWA Flight 847 was seized shortly after it left Athens in June, 1985.

Businessmen Seized

But the likelihood of extradition lessened significantly after two West German businessmen were seized in Lebanon shortly after Hamadi's arrest. The Germans are believed to be held by friends of the Hamadi family for a possible exchange for the accused hijacker.

Fitzwater, reading a prepared statement, said that "an expeditious, vigorous and complete prosecution in Germany of Hamadi with full punishment will satisfy our interest in justice for the victims of Hamadi's crimes while meeting the Federal Republic of Germany's international legal obligations."

Later, he acknowledged that the United States would have preferred extradition but said, "Under the circumstances, this is about the best we could hope for."

Reagan said after meetings two weeks ago with Kohl during the economic summit conference in Italy that he discussed the issue with the chancellor but made no specific request that Hamadi be sent to the United States. At that time, the President indicated that he would be satisfied as long as the suspect was prosecuted in either country.

"The only question that remains is: Will Hamadi be tried for murder and hijacking in the United States or will he be tried for murder and hijacking in Germany? Because that is what they intend to do," Reagan said in Venice. "Whichever way, he is going to be tried for the crime of killing our young Navy man in that hijacking."

Stethem, in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, said: "Saying that he would be satisfied with whatever the German government did does not, in my opinion, seem like he made a personal appeal. It was more or less like he was saying: 'You take responsibility.'

"Over there he could be tried, he could be sentenced, but there is nothing to say they couldn't commute his sentence. If he was tried here, I think the American people could be most certain that he'd never set feet on free ground again."

Reagan's statement in Italy also frustrated some members of the U.S. team seeking Hamadi's extradition, Justice Department sources said. In Germany, the United States' position was being argued by Associate Atty. Gen. Stephen S. Trott, the department's third-ranking official, and Victoria Toensing, the department's leading official on terrorism.

In seeking Hamadi's extradition, they argued that an American had been killed on a U.S. airliner by terrorists directing their efforts at the United States.

Staff writers Ronald J. Ostrow and Don Shannon contributed to this story.

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