U.S. Reposts $5M Reward for TWA Hijackers

Published June 29, 2005

| Associated Press

The U.S. Embassy reiterated on Wednesday the government's offer of a $5 million reward for information on the whereabouts of Lebanese Shiites who hijacked an American TWA jetliner in 1985 and killed a Navy diver on board.

The rewards have been around since after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S. But this was the first time the embassy in Beirut issued a reminder about them.

Washington may be hoping more information will be forthcoming after the military withdrawal of Syria, which was often accused of protecting militant groups on Lebanese soil.

"The United States will pay cash rewards in any currency for information that assists in bringing to justice those who murder and terrorize its citizens," said a statement posted on the embassy's Web site.

TWA Flight 847 (search) was hijacked on June 14, 1985, by Shiite Muslim extremists on a flight from Athens to Rome with 153 people, mostly Americans, aboard. One passenger, 23-year-old U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem (search), was killed during a 17-day standoff at the Beirut airport.

The hijackers were demanding the release of 700 Arabs held by Israel. After more than two weeks of mediation, the hostages were released, but the hijackers went free.

The rewards are for three leading figures in the hijacking — Imad Mughniyeh, the former security chief of the Hezbollah (search) guerrilla group, and two other men linked to Hezbollah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din and Ali Atwa.

All three are on the State Department list of individuals with suspected terrorist ties and were also on America's list of 22 "most wanted" terrorists published by President Bush as part of his war against terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The whereabouts of the three men are not known. But the embassy statement said they were thought to be in Lebanon or in Syria.

The embassy said the reminder was timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the hijacking.

Hezbollah has denied any links to the hijackings and the Lebanese government has repeatedly said the suspects are not in the country. Nothing has been heard about the three since the end of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.

Washington considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization. Lebanon, maintaining Hezbollah is a resistance force against Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, has rejected U.S. demands to crack down against the group.

Syria withdrew its army from Lebanon in April after 29 years of control.

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