Greek police free Lebanese man due to mistaken identity

Athens (AFP) –


Greek authorities have released a Lebanese man who was arrested last week accused of involvement in a 1985 plane hijacking, after concluding they had the wrong person, police said.

The 65-year-old was detained on Thursday on the island of Mykonos based on a European arrest warrant issued by Germany for his suspected involvement in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the murder of an American passenger.

Lebanese officials had said on Monday that the arrest was a case of mistaken identity as the man's name is nearly identical to that of the suspected hijacker, but his father's name does not match that of the suspect.

Greek police said their investigation, carried out in collaboration with German authorities, was unable to establish that the man was the wanted hijacker.

On Monday afternoon, "German authorities said that they would not request extradition as identification has not been possible," a Greek police statement said after a German investigator had gone to the island of Syros, where the man was being held, to question him.

On Sunday, an Arabic-speaking investigator from the Greek counter-terrorism police conducted a second interrogation that was also inconclusive.

The Greek prosecutor therefore requested his immediate release, which took place late on Monday, police said.

TWA Flight 847 was travelling from Cairo to San Diego with stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles. It was hijacked on June 14, 1985 after take-off from Athens.

Over a horrific 17 days, TWA pilot John Testrake was forced to crisscross the Mediterranean with his 153 passengers and crew members, from Beirut to Algiers and back again, landing in Beirut three times before he was finally allowed to stop.

The hijackers' demands included the release of Shiite Muslims held by Israel.

On June 15, 1985 during the first stop in Beirut, one of the passengers, 23-year-old US Navy diver Robert Stethem, was severely beaten, shot point blank in the head and his body thrown onto the tarmac.

Greek media said the real wanted man had been arrested in Germany two years after the hijacking but was later exchanged with two Germans who were abducted in Beirut. He has remained a fugitive ever since.