Hijackers believed to be Shiite Moslems commandeered a Trans World Airlines 727 jet bound from Athens for Rome yesterday with 153 persons aboard, most of them Americans, took them on a flight of terror across the eastern Mediterranean, and killed a passenger, reportedly a U.S. marine.
Shortly after the airliner landed in Beirut for the second time, with only a few minutes' fuel remaining, the pilot told the control tower, "He just illed a passenger. He just killed a passenger."
Witnesses said the body of a male was dumped onto the tarmac shortly after the plane landed at 2:20 this morning (7:20 p.m. EDT Friday), and the hijackers identified the victim as a U.S. marine. U.S. government officials would not confirm this.
Shiite militiamen who helped move the victim described the man as being between 21 and 25 years old and wearing a T-shirt. A cameraman who saw the body on a stretcher said he appeared to have a crewcut.
A hijacker then said over the radio, "You see. You now believe. There will be another within five minutes."
The shooting came at the third stop of the hijackers' odyssey, which began in the air over Athens yesterday morning and continued to Beirut and Algiers. Early today the hijackers returned to the Lebanese capital and shot the passenger before taking off again with 110 hostages. About 80 of those still aboard were believed to be Americans.
The pilot was heard telling the control tower that he was taking off for Algiers and had only enough fuel to make it there. The plane landed in Algiers at 2:45 a.m. EDT today, The Associated Press reported.
The hijackers demanded that one of their comrades arrested in Greece yesterday be freed, or they would begin killing eight Greek passengers aboard.
"We demand that the Greek authorities immediately release Ali Atweh, or else we will kill our eight Greek hostages -- one every hour," one of the hijackers said in a statement read over the plane's radio before the jetliner took off from Beirut for the second time.
The hijackers, reportedly armed with automatic rifles and hand grenades, demanded the release of Moslem prisoners captured during the Israeli pullout from Lebanon and held in Israel and insisted on speaking with a leader of the Amal Shiite Moslem militia. They threatened to blow up the plane and kill the passengers if their demands were not met.
Four Amal officials boarded the plane after the shooting and talked to the hijackers.
"Isn't it a shame, killing an innocent passenger?" a control tower operator asked the hijacker.
"Did you forget the Bir al Abed massacre?" the hijacker replied, referring to the March 8 car bombing in a suburb of Beirut that killed more than 80 Shiite Moslems. Shiites have accused the Central Intelligence Agency of being behind the bombing, which the CIA has denied.
Amal militiamen began arriving at the airport before the plane touched down, and they appeared to be in control of security there.
Passengers released during the plane's first stop in Beirut Friday, when the plane took on fuel, said some passengers had been beaten and at least one had been shot.
An Arab diplomat in Washington said that the hijackers were probably in contact with Moslem extremists holding seven Americans hostage in Lebanon and expressed concern that any attempt to storm the plane could result in retaliation against the hostages.
A White House official said that President Reagan had been awakened before 7 a.m. yesterday by national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane and told of the hijacking. The official said Reagan had been "intensely involved all day" in efforts to free the hostages. He said the White House was in communication with other governments "at fairly high levels."
U.S. officials indicated last night that some sort of antiterrorist force has been sent to the Middle East.
Nineteen passengers were released at the first stopover in Beirut and 21 more during the five-hour stop in Algiers before the plane took off for Beirut again last night.
Algeria reportedly had been reluctant to allow the aircraft to land but agreed to do so after a request from U.S. officials, diplomatic sources said.
A State Department spokesman refused to comment last night on a television report that the Beirut airport had allowed the plane to land a second time only at the request of the U.S. government.
The pilot of the hijacked Boeing 727 initially was denied permission to make the earlier landing at Beirut International Airport, but Lebanese officials relented after his urgent plea:
"He has pulled a hand-grenade pin and is ready to blow up the aircraft if he has to," the pilot told the Beirut control tower. "We must land at Beirut. No alternative."
Once the plane reached the ground, one of the hijackers, speaking in what Beirut observers called a heavy southern Lebanese dialect, took over the negotiations. "In three minutes we will kill an American. He is tied to the door . . . . Either you provide us with fuel or we blow up the plane . . . . The plane is booby-trapped, if anyone approaches other than persons involved in refueling, I'll start killing passengers and letting them down the ramp, one by one."
In a tense exchange with the Beirut tower while awaiting refueling, the pilot said, "They are beating the passengers; they are beating the passenger. They are threatening to kill them now; they are threatening to kill them now. We want the fuel NOW. IMMEDIATELY."
The hijackers freed 17 women, most of them elderly, and two children while the airliner was on the ground in Beirut for about 90 minutes before taking off for Algiers. The passengers slid down an emergency escape chute and ran across the tarmac to fire hangars. They were then flown to Cyprus.
A freed passenger, Neta Slotowski, 67, of Algonquin, Ill., told The Associated Press, "One man was tied up with a necktie by the door. I thought they were going to shoot him."
Freed passengers said that two men in the back of the plane ran from their seats about 15 minutes into the flight from Athens, entered the cockpit and seized control.
"They told us to put our hands up behind our heads and put our heads down," Irma Trautmann of Laredo, Tex., told news agencies.
The flight, originating as No. 887 in Cairo with 145 passengers and eight crew, was bound for Rome as Flight 847 when it was seized shortly after it left Athens. Its ultimate des- tination was San Diego, with stopovers in Boston and Los Angeles. The State Department estimated that 104 of the passengers originally aboard were Americans.
At least 24 of the passengers were Roman Catholics on their way home from a religious pilgrimage to Israel, according to Jackie Soucek of St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic Church in Algonquin, Ill.
The hijacking underscored the precarious nature of the U.S. prescence in the Middle East since the October 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and the subsequent withdrawal of U.S. forces from Lebanon.
In Washington, asked if the U.S. government would negotiate with the hijackers, State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said, "Our position is clear. We are always willing to talk about the safety of U.S. citizens."
He went on to say that it would be "speculative" to discuss various scenarios, adding, "It is not our policy to give in to terrorist demands.
"We have a task force at the State Department working continually on the situation and coordinating . . . efforts on this matter," Kalb said.
It was the third hijacking this week involving Middle East factions. Tuesday, Shiite Amal militiamen seized a Royal Jordanian Airways airliner in Beirut, setting in motion a two-day drama that ended after the passengers were released and the plane blown up. Shortly after the Jordanian airliner was destroyed, a man identified as a Palestinian seized a Middle East Airlines plane approaching the airport at Larnaca, Cyprus.
Islamic Jihad, a Shiite extremist fundamentalist group bent on driving westerners out of Lebanon, claimed responsibility for yesterday's hijacking in a telephone conversation with a Beirut-based foreign news agency, but a later communique denied any involvement.
"The hijacking of TWA has come to prove to the colonialist Americans that the Moslems can strike at them wherever they are," an anonymous caller said on behalf of the shadowy group, which has taken responsibility for the kidnapings of seven Americans in Beirut and the blowing up of U.S. embassies, suicide attacks against U.S. marines and French servicemen and a series of bomb blasts in Kuwait.
The Islamic Jihad is a believed to include several fundamentalist Shiite Moslem groups with close ties to Iran.
Later, a short, typewritten message signed by Islamic Jihad and denying a role in the TWA hijacking was delivered to foreign news agencies in Beirut.
"While we support any action against world oppression and in the interest of the oppressed throughout the world, we affirm that we are not associated with the operation," the communique said. "We warn everybody against the consequences of involving the name of our organization in this operation."
The hijackers' demands did not include release of prisoners held by Kuwait, which Islamic Jihad has insisted on in past operations. The hijackers demanded condemnation of Israel and U.S. support for Israel, release of all Lebanese Shiite Moslems held by Israel and an end to fighting between Lebanese Moslems.
Shiite militiamen have been locked in a four-week war against Palestinian guerrillas suspected of trying to make a comeback as a military power in Lebanon. The Shiite community has been enraged by the response of Egypt, Jordan and other countries such as Libya, which have sided with the Palestinians.
About 800 Shiites are held by the Israelis, most of them in Israel, according to Israeli Defense Ministry spokesman Nachman Shai. "We have made it clear to the Shiites that we will gradually release these prisoners," Shai said. "It depends a little bit on the security situation in southern Lebanon, but they know that sooner or later all of them will be released."
Athens police arrested a man in connection with the hijacking. He was identified by the Greek Ministry of Public Order as Ali Atweh, 21, a Lebanese. He identified his comrades aboard the plane as Ahmet Korbya and Ali Yunes, UPI reported.
They arrived from Beirut on Thursday and spent the night in the airport lounge, Atweh told Greek authorities.
His companions carried two grenades and a 9-mm pistol onto the plane wrapped in fiberglass insulation material and packed in a nylon traveling bag, which made it through X-ray machines.