Shiite Muslim confesses to 1985 hijacking of TWA plane

A radical Muslim confessed in a West German court yesterday to the 1985 hijacking of a United States airliner, but he denied that he killed an American serviceman on the plane. Muhammad Ali Hamadei, a Shiite Muslim, made the admission of the hijacking of Trans World Airlines Flight 847 in the Frankfurt prison courtroom where he has been on trial for a little more than a month.

It was the first time Mr. Hamadei had addressed the hijacking charge in the trial. However, he said Navy diver Robert Stethem was shot by another hijacker whose name Hamadei refused to give.

Hamadei said he and a second Shiite hijacker commandeered the TWA jet from Athens to Beirut with the intent of forcing the release of hundreds of comrades held in Israel.

Israel freed about 700 Shiite guerrillas after the hijackers released the 39 American passengers following the 17-day ordeal.

Hamadei, who previously testified to having taken part in fighting against Israeli troops in Lebanon, told the court the decision to hijack the TWA jet was made only after all other ways to free the Shiites had proven futile.

His surprise admission to the hijacking threw into question the future course of the trial, in which former TWA hostages had been scheduled to testify as witnesses.

Until yesterday, Hamadei had refused to comment on the murder and air piracy charges against him, and his trial had been expected to last for months.

The proceeding, a rare case of an accused Arab hijacker coming to trial in a Western court, has been closely monitored by the US, which demanded Hamadei's extradition after his January 1987 arrest in West Germany.

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