TWA hijacker looks headed for West German, not American, trial

There are increasing leaks that Bonn will not extradite hijacking suspect Muhammad Ali Hamadei to the United States, but will instead try him in West Germany. The latest of these appeared in the daily Die Welt yesterday, as Chancellor Helmut Kohl's crisis staff met to prepare for tomorrow's formal Cabinet decision. According to Die Welt, Dr. Kohl has already agreed with his interior, justice, and foreign ministers to bring Mr. Hamadei before a Frankfurt court, not only on the original charge at his arrest of smuggling explosives into West Germany, but also on the charge of hijacking a TWA plane two years ago. An American Navy diver was murdered during the hijacking.

Under the international terrorist agreement of recent years, Bonn has the choice of either extraditing or trying a suspected hijacker. It cannot just release him.

Bonn has been reluctant to extradite Hamadei, despite strong pressure to do so from the US, since kidnappers abducted two West German businessmen in Lebanon shortly after Hamadei's arrest and have threatened to kill them if Hamadei is sent to the US. The blackout on news of the two captives has been close to total, but officials are said to believe that they are still alive.

The US has argued - in vain, it increasingly appears - that Bonn would do itself a favor by turning Hamadei over to Washington and not leaving itself open to further blackmail through seizure of ever-new hostages. US Attorney General Edwin Meese III is expected to visit Bonn today to meet with the interior minister in an apparent attempt to persuade West German officials to extradite Hamadei.

The fallback American position now is that Bonn must make sure that Hamadei serves a full sentence - the maximum possible is life imprisonment - and not simply deport or pardon him after a few months.

Abundant leaks have also appeared in West German media that American passengers from the TWA plane who were flown to Frankfurt last week identified Hamadei without reservation as one of the hijackers.

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