The 17 prisoners whose freedom the hijackers are demanding were convicted of taking part in an intricate plot to bomb eight sites in Kuwait on Dec. 11, 1983.

The targets were the U.S. and French embassies; offices of the Raytheon Co., an American firm installing a Hawk missile system; an apartment building housing Raytheon employees; Kuwait's airport control tower; the Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water; the Kuwait Passport Control office, and a petrochemical and refining complex.

All eight car bombs detonated, killing five persons, wounding 87 and causing extensive property damage at some of the locations.

The Washington Post reported in February 1984 that 22 men -- including 18 Iraqis and three Lebanese -- were directly involved in the operation. One, Raad Meftel Ajeel, died in the U.S. Embassy attack. A total of 25 men eventually were tried in Kuwait in connection with the attacks.

One of the prisoners, a Shiite, is believed related to a Lebanese clan that controls several fundamentalist organizations.

According to The Associated Press, three of the 17 -- two Iraqis and a Lebanese Christian -- were sentenced to death, but have not been executed. Three other Iraqis were not caught and were sentenced to death in absentia.

Five Iraqis, a Lebanese and a Kuwaiti were sentenced to life in prison, and three Iraqis and a Lebanese were sentenced to 15 years. One Iraqi received a 10-year sentence, and one Iraqi and a man whose nationality was not released were sentenced to five years in prison.

Five defendants -- three Iraqis and two Kuwaitis -- were acquitted.

The Post reported that all 18 Iraqis who were directly involved were members of Al Dawa, an Iraqi opposition movement based in Iran.

A year after the bombings, in December 1984, hijackers seized a Kuwait Airlines Airbus A300 en route from Kuwait to Karachi, Pakistan, and forced it to fly to Tehran, demanding freedom for the 17 prisoners. The hijackers later killed two American passengers employed by the U.S. government. Iranian security forces stormed the plane Dec. 9, 1984, and overpowered the four hijackers.

Hezbollah, the radical Moslem organization operating in southern Lebanon, has offered in the past to help free western hostages in Lebanon in return for the release of the 17 prisoners.