The Shiite hijacker, who had beaten the TWA passengers and shot a Navy diver to death, walked into the second-floor apartment where four American hostages were being held in isolation from the rest of their captive compatriots.

"Hi, do you remember me?" he asked with a grin. When the terrified Americans pretended not to know him, he pulled out a silver pistol and waved it in front of them, saying, "Now do you remember me?"

"It was sick, sick. The hijackers really were barbaric killers," recalled Robert Trautmann Jr. of Laredo, Tex., one of the four men who were separated from the other hostages and held by members of the extremist Hezbollah, or "Party of God," to which the hijackers are believed to belong.

"I suspect we were singled out because we had Jewish names or seemed to be military personnel," Trautmann said. One of the four, Robert G. Brown of Stow, Mass., "was an ex-marine. At one point, I was asked if I were Jewish and I said, 'No, I'm Catholic.' And then they did not press it."

The final release of the 39 Americans was delayed for at least a day because of the absence of these four. The other Americans had been taken off the plane and delivered into the custody of the mainstream Shiite Amal militia, whose leader, Nabih Berri, played a key role in the negotiations.

Yet for both groups, the days and nights in captivity evoked a jumbled panoply of emotions, ranging from kinship to hostility, sympathy to fear.

"A lot of the friendly feelings may have come from the treatment," explained Trautmann. "The hijackers were animals, but the keepers made an effort to treat us well. And after the experience on the plane, everybody was happy they were not beaten."

All of the hostages interviewed described the nightmarish time on the plane as the most frightening phase of their ordeal. Once they were taken off the plane, said Steve Willett of Choupic, La., "it was not so bad, just boring. I was confident we would get out. We just had to wait."

Even so, there were tense and unpredictable moments. A truckload of hostages was taken off the plane to a half-finished building and lined up against the wall of a room where one candle was burning.

A man entered, half-draped with a blanket, carrying a cloaked tubular object that some hostages feared was a machine gun. But when he dropped it, it turned out to be a furled blanket containing cola, pita bread and cheese presented as the "first meal" under Amal's guardianship.

"We tended to fear the worst and every time, thank goodness, we were mistaken," Willett said.

Stuart Darsch of Boston, who lost 10 pounds during the two-week ordeal, shared the general view that once on the ground the hostages were adequately fed and cared for. He also cited the unusual rapport that developed between the hostages and their keepers, who offered copies of the Koran and worry beads as farewell gifts.

In the final days, the sheer boredom of waiting out the crisis became virtually intolerable. The Amal-held hostages slept late, then would eat breakfast and play backgammon or watch television until a late afternoon lunch. "We simply tried to kill as much time as possible," Willett said.

The four hostages held by Hezbollah "played a lot of cards and told each other our life histories," said Brown. "I guess those three guys got to know me better than my wife has in some ways."

For both groups, the captivity taught much about the complications of life and politics in the Middle East. Darsch said the Amal-held hostages "watched video films of the damage inflicted on their neighborhoods by the shelling from the New Jersey" -- the battleship whose powerful guns were unleashed on Beirut suburbs during the ill-fated stay of American Marines in Lebanon. "I would not necessarily call that propaganda, but it certainly affected our views about Mideast politics," he said.

"Our keepers gave us a lot of lessons in history, geography, religion and politics in their area," said Brown. "But we did not hear much about Iran at all."

"The whole experience was like taking a crash course in the region," said Trautmann. Unlike most of the captives under Amal's control, who appeared at press conferences and conveyed messages to loved ones, Trautmann, Brown, Richard Herzberg of Norfolk and Jeffrey Ingalls of Virginia Beach were kept incommunicado for more than a week in a damp basement bunker that served as a radio command post for Hezbollah.

Brown, who suffered a broken blood vessel in one eye when he was kicked by a hijacker aboard the plane, said the foursome were bundled off the plane "at 4 or 5 o'clock Saturday morning [June 15], the second time we landed in Beirut."

He said they were driven into an apartment house garage in West Beirut "not far from Nabih Berri's office." They were taken two flights down into the basement, where their captors said a few local prisoners were being held separately for petty theft.

The Americans were installed in a room 20 feet square, with carpeting and air conditioning. "We slept in our clothes on the floor for seven days," Brown said. "They finally brought us gym shirts and shorts to wear while they did our laundry."

He said they heard radio signals all night in the next room, and occasionally glimpsed the hijackers through a crack in the door. After they were taken to a second hiding place last Thursday, the hijackers paid the taunting visits to their room.

"We were kept in the bunker for more than a week with no news at all," Brown said. "Then [hostage spokesman] Allyn Conwell turned up. We did not know who he was and at first thought he was our liberator. But then we saw he was just another hostage getting a count of everybody."

Washington Post correspondent Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.