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TWA Hijack Suspect Arrested After More Than Three Decades on the Lam

Authorities in Greece say that suspected TWA Flight 847 hijacker Mohammad Saleh was taken into custody after a “routine security check” on the island of Mykonos. The alleged Hezbollah terrorist has been sought by authorities since the 1985 hijacking that resulted in the beating death of a U.S. Navy Underwater Diver.

Officials have confirmed that a Lebanese man identified as Mohammad Saleh has been arrested in connection with the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847. The 65-year-old suspect, who has evaded authorities for more than three decades, was reportedly nabbed during a “routine security check” when the cruise ship he was on visited the Greek Isle of Mykonos as a port of call. The passenger is said to have matched a detailed description of the alleged tourist.

“The suspect denies any involvement in the hijacking,” police spokesperson Theodoros Chronopoulos told CNN on Sunday.  “He has been remanded in custody on the island of Syros and is to be transferred to a high-security prison in Athens.”

In addition to being among the fugitives named in the inaugural FBI Most Wanted Terrorist List, Mohammad Saleh was also being sought for his alleged part in a 1987 kidnapping in Germany. Greek authorities say they are working closely with German police on this aspect of the investigations.

The 1985 hijacking dominated the news coverage at the time as the hijackers holding passengers and crew members hostage forced the pilots to land twice in Algeria and three times in Beirut. During one of those stops, a hijacker allowed the captain to address cameras through an open cockpit window while holding a gun to his head. At a later stop, the terrorists dropped the remains of a passenger onto the tarmac as news cameras rolled. The body was that of U.S. Navy Underwater Diver Robert Stethem who had earlier been beaten and shot by his captors.

Flight attendant Uli Derickson was awarded the Silver Cross for Valor by the Legion of Valor for her part in saving lives during the ordeal. Derickson worked to hide the identities of American and Jewish passengers from the hijackers and is also credited with helping to calm her increasingly agitated abductors. At one point, she used her own Shell credit card to purchase jet fuel when an airport company refused to refuel the Boeing 727 without first receiving payment. She was also a key prosecution witness in the trial of the only hijacker from TWA Flight 847 ever brought to justice. A made-for-television movie about her heroism, The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story, was released to critical acclaim in 1988.

In many ways, the events aboard the Athens to Rome-bound plane, which was diverted using a pistol and two live grenades smuggled past airport security screeners, changed air travel forever. From a security standpoint, many of the standard operating procedures put in place following the deadly hijacking remained in place until the September 11 terrorist attacks once again changed commercial aviation as we know it.

By the time the hijackers released the remaining hostages nearly two weeks later, more than thirty armed terrorists had joined the original hijackers on the plane – most have evaded justice in the 24 years since. Hijacker Mohammed Ali Hammadi was arrested in 1987 in Frankfurt, Germany. He was sentenced to life in prison but was eventually released and returned to Lebanon in 2005 in what was widely believed to be a covert prisoner exchange deal. Alleged Flight 847 mastermind Imad Mugniyah is believed to have been killed in a car bombing in Syria in 2008.

How did the events in June of 1985 change the way you fly? The expert flyer community is sharing recollections of the terrorist attack that shocked the world along with the very latest details on the capture of Mohammad Saleh in the Flyertalk Travel News Forums.


[Image: Wikimedia Commons/Felix Goetting]

Comments are Closed.
FlyGUYClipper September 26, 2019

If it was reported to CNN, It just plain unreliable. Does anyone not know this??.

rgoltsch September 25, 2019

Sadly, it was not him. Authorities released the man after determining that this was not the hijacker, simply someone that shared the same name. On the bright side, it is good to know that even 30 years later, the authorities are still trying to bring this monster to justice.

D3KingAmerican September 24, 2019

This is a man who hijacked a US airliner and killed a US navy diver . This happened 16 years before 9/11. He is only 65 years old. I hope he gets extradited to the US.