FRANKFURT, West Germany — Mohammed Ali Hamadi today denied he was the leader of a group that hijacked a TWA jet in 1985 but did not respond to testimony that he gloated after a U.S. Navy diver was killed.
Hamadi, a Lebanese Shia Muslim, is accused of murder and air piracy in the hijacking in which Robert Stethem was murdered and 39 Americans were held captive for 17 days.
"The testimony very often deviates far from the truth," Hamadi told the court today.
The Athens to Rome flight was hijacked by two men on June 14, 1985, and first diverted to Beirut, then to Algeria and then back to Beirut. Hamadi said a third commando joined the hijackers later in Beirut.
Witness Says He Gloated
On Tuesday, flight engineer Benjamin Zimmermann described how Hamadi pointed with pride to bloodstains of the slain U.S. hostage.
Throughout the trial, the judge has asked Hamadi if he wishes to comment on the testimony. Although the defendant did so today, he declined to say anything about Zimmermann's comment on the bloodstains.
Earlier in the trial, pilot John Testrake identified Hamadi as the hijacker who shot Stethem to death and testified that Hamadi was the operation's leader.
"I was not the leader of the commandos," Hamadi said today.
Won't Give Name
"The one who gave us the orders came on board after Beirut two (the second landing), and took over the command," Hamadi said. He declined to provide the man's name.
Hamadi said the man spoke English well and came on the plane with Amal militiamen in Beirut after Stethem was shot.
Witnesses have testified that the situation became more relaxed on board the plane after the Amal militia arrived. Negotiations with the hijackers also improved, members of the flight crew said.
Chief Judge Hainer Mueckenberger asked Hamadi: "Are you sure he was the one who gave the order to hijack the airplane?"
"Yes," Hamadi replied in German.