Germany Needs Fortitude to Keep Hamadi
By Victoria Toensing

The conviction and life sentence imposed on Mohammed Ali Hamadi by a West German court this month was a major, but not a complete, victory in the fight against international terrorism.

Hamadi was tried in Frankfurt for the June 14, 1985, hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the murder of Navy diver Robert Stethem. Our government had strongly requested that Hamadi be extradited here to be tried in U.S. courts, but the Germans refused. The refusal was based on terrorists' demands not to extradite or they would kill two German hostages in Lebanon.

Hamadi's arrest was a fluke.  He was questioned at the Frankfurt airport in January, 1987, because of suspicious behavior.  That "border stop" led the authorities to discover explosive material hidden in his possession.  Only after he was booked and fingerprinted did the Germans realize who they had in custody.  Immediately, the Kohl government notified the United States.

In response, the State and Justice Departments worked through the night and a Washington blizzard preparing the proper extradition papers and translating the documents into German.  But within 24 hours of the public announcement of Hamadi's arrest, a German citizen was kidnapped in Beirut; within a few days the terrorists grabbed a second German hostage.

The great urgency suddenly subsided into a six-month lull while the Germans delayed and delayed their decision on extradition.

Finally, in June, they informed the U.S. government that they would consider extradition but wanted to be certain the man in prison was, in fact, Mohammed AU Hamadi.  On the two-year anniversary of the hijacking, three victims of the crime dropped everything on 24 hours notice and flew from the United States to Frankfurt as witnesses to identify Hamadi in a lineup unprecedented in extradition procedure.  Even though all three identifications were "without doubt" according to the German

judge presiding, the Germans refused to extradite because of the terrorists' demand. Subsequently, both German hostages were released.

To its credit, the German state judicial system conscientiously tried Hamadi during a 2 month trial that occurred over a 10-month span.  On May 17, he was sentenced to life, the maximum penalty under German law. For this decision, Germany is to be congratulated and praised.

But the story has not ended.  The day of the verdict, terrorists kidnapped three more (two still remain in their custody) German citizens in Lebanon. Demands to lessen his sentence or trade Hamadi cannot be far behind. In all likelihood, the political branch of the West German federal government, not the state judiciary which tried the case, will once again have to make a judgment about terrorists and citizens held hostage.

When I was in Bonn in June, 1987, negotiating Hamadi's extradition, I warned the German delegation meeting with us that Hamadi would be a "hot potato."  If they convicted him, they would always have to deal with threats for his release.  It would be far better to send him to the United States, I argued, where we had the resolve to keep him because he was charged with the murder of an American serviceman, the hostage-taking of U.S. citizens and the hijacking of a U.S. carrier.  West Germany had no victims whatsoever involved in TWA Flight 847; the sole jurisdiction for the trial was finding Hamadi on its soil.  Therefore, the German government might not have the strong support of its people to continue to imprison a convicted terrorist when fellow Germans' lives are once again being threatened-as was the situation on the extradition decision.

So the case of Hamadi is not over and will not be until he actually serves life in prison. Since the terrorists succeeded in making Germany modify its behavior on the extradition, they will expect acquiescence again on lessening the life sentence.  By caving in to the terrorists' demands in 1987, the Germans merely delayed making the tough call.  We can only wish them well.  Now they must display a strong national will and refuse to reduce Hamadi's sentence when the inevitable new demand from the terrorists arrives.

 

 

 

 

 

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