Karachi, Pakistan — A Karachi court on Monday gave police permission to hold for 15 days four Palestinians allegedly responsible for last week's hijacking of a Pan Am jetliner. The 15-day detention and interrogation period was granted after police registered a case, but not specific charges, against the four. Pakistani law provides for the filing of formal charges by a magistrate only after a court hearing.
Pakistan's President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq said the four Palestinians will face the death penalty if convicted.
``The hijackers have committed a crime on the soil of Pakistan, and we will try them here. They will receive the punishment that such a crime deserves,'' President Zia said at an airport news conference Sunday night.
Zia said the hijackers, whom he described as Palestinians ranging in age from 19 to 25, did not appear to be connected to any government. ``They're youngsters, but very volatile,'' he said. The gunmen would not be extradited to the United States, which issued arrest warrants for three of the hijackers on Saturday, Zia said.
Government and hospital officials said the death toll from Friday's hijacking was 18. Earlier reports had put the number at 15.
Three of the Palestinians were being held under heavy guard at the Malir Army base four miles from Karachi airport, security officials said. The fourth was being treated for an unspecified wound in hospital, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The three men held at Malir appeared before a magistrate in a special hearing at the base, the officials said. The magistrate said the 15-day period would be extended if police required, they said.
Most survivors of Flight 73 left Karachi on Sunday, some aboard a special Pan Am flight for Europe and New York and others on an Indian Airlines Airbus to Bombay.
Zia said he strongly supported the Palestinian cause, but did not see the need for actions such as hijackings. ``Such incidents do leave a bad taste.'' The President also said he was completely satisfied with the way Pakistani security forces handled the incident.
``I'm very proud of them,'' Zia said. ``It could have been far worse. Many more lives could have been lost.''
The hijacked jumbo jet had been moved to a maintenance area at the airport. Police experts were searching it to ensure that no explosives remained aboard.