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Passenger Freed After Talks Resume

April 15, 1988

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ Shiite Moslem hijackers freed another hostage from a Kuwaiti jumbo jet Thursday but said they will not retract their demands ″even if the price we have to pay is very high.″

The release of the elderly, grizzled man came after the hijackers resumed talks with Algerian mediators on ending the 10-day-old crisis.

The man, dressed in a white robe, descended from the Kuwait Airways Boeing 747 at 9:45 p.m. (3:45 EDT), got into a car and was driven across the tarmac to the VIP lounge at Houari Boumedienne Airport.

Algerian officials said he was a Kuwaiti named Djuma Abdallah Chatti.

″Praise to God, I am fine, but they had me tied all the time and I am tired,″ said Chatti, who gave his age as 70.

″They are not good people,″ he told reporters in the airport lounge. ″They beat me.″

At least 30 hostages remained on board the plane seized April 5 on a Bangkok-Kuwait flight.

The hijackers first diverted the plane to northern Iran. It flew three days later to Larnaca, Cyprus, where Palestine Liberation Organization officials negotiated with the hijackers. The gunmen have killed two passengers and freed 71. Among the remaining hostages are three members of Kuwait’s royal family.

After the latest release, the hijackers broadcast a message to the control tower in Arabic and English, repeating their demand for the release of 17 pro- Iranian terrorists jailed in Kuwait.

The statement said Chatti had been released for ″strictly humanitarian reasons.″

″We repeat forcefully our demands for the liberation of our 17 brothers in Kuwait, and we will not go back on them even if the price we have to pay is very high,″ the statement said.

Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister, Mohammed Al-Osaimi, reiterated that the 17 would not be freed. He is head of a high-level Kuwaiti delegation on the scene.

Another Kuwaiti official, speaking to reporters on condition he not be identified, said the Algerian authorities continued to put pressure on Kuwait to be more flexible in its position.

″You can see this from the fact that they are telling us that the ball is in our court,″ the official said.

Negotiations between the hijackers and Algerian mediators resumed Thursday evening after a breakdown earlier in the day caused by the lack of progress, according to the official Algerian news agency.

In Washington, lawmakers urged Secretary of State George P. Shultz to intervene because of reports that one of the hijackers might be responsible for kidnapping American journalist Terry Anderson in Lebanon.

Kuwait’s independent al-Qabas newspaper reported Wednesday that the alleged kidnapper, Imad Mughniyeh, was believed to have boarded the plane when it landed in Mashhad, Iran.

Mughniyeh has been identified as one of the security chiefs in Beirut for Hezbollah, or Party of God, which is believed to be the umbrella organization for pro-Iranian groups holding foreign hostages in Lebanon.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat accused Iran of being behind the hijacking and said some of the gunmen ″belong to the Iranian government.″ Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel-Meguid echoed Arafat’s comments Thursday in Cairo.

In a radio call to the airport tower Thursday, a passenger who identified himself as Ahmed Zayed said: ″I ask my government to release the 17 Islamic Jihad prisoners. If not, they will kill us all.″

Islamic Jihad, or Holy War, is the group that holds Anderson, and it also is demanding the release of the 17 Kuwaiti prisoners. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, was kidnapped March 16, 1985. He has been held longer than any of the 22 foreign hostages in Lebanon.

The hijackers, said to be armed with grenades and guns, have threatened to blow up the plane and kill their remaining hostages if their demands are not met.

A ranking Algerian official said Wednesday that Kuwait’s ″intransigence″ had created the standstill.

Algeria’s negotiating committee is divided into two teams led by Interior Minister Hedi Khediri. One team is responsible for contacts with the Kuwaitis, and the other with the hijackers.

A doctor was allowed on board the plane Thursday to examine the hostages.

″I saw no sign of any illness that required hospitalization or major medicine,″ said Dr. Youssef Mahdi. He later told the official Algerian news agency that he prescribed some ″routine medicines″ that would be sent to the plane.

″The passengers I saw did not have their hands tied and displayed no signs of physical violence,″ Mahdi said.

An airport crew also went aboard to clean up and serve hot food, the Algerian official said.

In a letter Wednesday to Shultz, Sen. Daniel Moynihan and Rep. Louise Slaughter, both New York Democrats, wrote: ″We know the United States is not a primary party to the Algiers negotiations. But if Terry Anderson’s chief kidnapper is on the Kuwaiti jet, the United States government must ensure that the negotiators are aware of this fact.″

″It would be a travesty for Imad Mughniyeh to go free while Terry Anderson remains a captive,″ they said.

The plane landed in Algeria on Tuesday night.

It was moved early Thursday to the end of the runway so another jet could land. It was later returned to its original position about 400 yards from the terminal.

Update hourly