BONN — West German businessman Rudolf Cordes, held hostage for nearly 20 months by an Iranian-backed Shia Muslim group in Lebanon, was freed late Monday in Beirut after his kidnapers said they were given assurances that the terrorism cases against two Lebanese on trial in West Germany would be "settled."
Syrian officials said that Cordes, the 55-year-old manager in Lebanon for the Frankfurt-based Hoechst chemical company, left Beirut by car and arrived in Damascus late Monday. He will fly to West Germany as early as today. He was described as being in good health and high spirits when he arrived in the Syrian capital.
Cordes is not expected to make any substantive public statements about his captivity or the fate of the other 17 Western hostages, including eight Americans, believed still held in Lebanon.
Taken to Minister's Home
Freed shortly before midnight, he was taken by police to the home of Lebanese Interior Minister Abdullah Rassi.
"I was at home with my family when Mr. Cordes suddenly came in," Rassi told news agency reporters in Beirut. "He was in an excellent physical shape--like any ordinary German coming to visit me at home. We offered him dinner, but he only sipped a cup of coffee. He looked comfortable and relaxed."
An Interior Ministry official said that Cordes was released near the Kuwaiti Embassy in southern Beirut. He quoted Cordes as telling him after his release:
"The kidnapers dropped me in a street. I went to a house in the area and told them, 'I am the hostage Rudolf Cordes,' and asked for help. The people of the house immediately called the Lebanese police, who came for me."
The first announcement of Cordes' impending release was made Monday by the self-styled and clandestine Strugglers for Freedom, which said he was being freed because of "sincere calls" by Syrian President Hafez Assad and Iranian leaders.
". . . On the basis of guarantees we received that the case of the Hamadi brothers will be settled, we announce that we will release the German Cordes within 12 hours," one of the group's three statements released Monday said.
No Details Given
The statement did not specify what guarantees were given, nor explain what was meant by settlement of the Hamadi cases.
Mohammed Ali Hamadi is on trial in Frankfurt for the 17-day hijacking in 1985 of a TWA jetliner and the murder of a U.S. Navy diver during the ordeal. His brother, Abbas Ali Hamadi, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in West Germany on charges of arranging Cordes' abduction.
Cordes was seized in Beirut on Jan. 17, 1987. According to Middle East sources, his abduction was in retaliation for the arrest of Mohammed Hamadi at the Frankfurt airport.
A second West German, Alfred Schmidt, also was abducted in Beirut that month, and a few days later, Abbas Hamadi was arrested at the Frankfurt airport.
Last September, Schmidt was released by his captors, although he said he did not know why. But his return to freedom fueled speculation in the West German media that ransom might have been paid or an agreement made on the part of the West German government eventually to grant clemency to one or both Hamadis.
Refused Extradition Request
The Bonn government has denied suggestions that it would make such a deal, although it declined a U.S. request to extradite Mohammed Hamadi to stand trial on charges of murder and air piracy.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said, "The Federal Republic of Germany has repeatedly stated that it will not make a deal over Mr. Hamadi." He declared that the United States is confident that Bonn will "subject him to the full rigor of German law."
Earlier Monday, the Strugglers for Freedom issued a statement, purportedly written by Cordes, that declared: "Please help the other hostages--several are expecting something, especially now that I'm being freed."
There was no elaboration, although rumors have circulated that some British hostages might be released soon in Lebanon.
The various statements issued Monday indicated the importance that Iran and Syria play in the fate of the hostages.
Last month, Iranian diplomats affirmed their intention to help free Cordes, and this was reaffirmed Friday when Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Larijani told West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher that Cordes would be set free.
Cordes' release came on the same day that the pilot of TWA Flight 847 accused Mohammed Hamadi in a Frankfurt courtroom of killing Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem aboard the hijacked plane in June, 1985.
Capt. John Testrake testified that, during the hijacking, Hamadi shot Stethem, whose body was then tossed onto the tarmac at the Beirut airport.
Earlier in the trial, Hamadi admitted being one of the two hijackers who forcibly diverted the TWA jetliner from Athens to Beirut. But he insisted that he was only following instructions from the senior hijacker and that he had no intention to kill or harm any passenger.