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Woman Accused in 1977 Hijacking to Stand Trial in Germany

April 28, 1996

BERLIN (AP) _ After 17 years on the run, a Palestinian woman charged in the bloody 1977 hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner goes on trial Monday in Hamburg.

Suhaila al Sayeh, 43, was the only one of four Palestinian hijackers to survive when German anti-terrorist police stormed the plane in Mogadishu, Somalia, and freed the 87 people on board.

She was severely wounded, served a short prison term in Somalia, then disappeared. She was arrested in 1994 in Oslo, Norway, where she had lived for about three years under a new identity with her husband and young daughter.

Rejecting her claims that she was only a soldier following orders during the hijacking, Norway extradited her to Germany on Nov. 25 to face charges of hijacking, attempted murder and being an accomplice to the murder of the Boeing’s captain, Juergen Schumann.

Several of the hostages described al Sayeh as having been especially unscrupulous. ``She and the leader ... were the most brutal,″ Beate Keller, who was on the plane, said in a recent interview.

Her attorney, Hajo Wandschneider, said in a newspaper interview that al Sayeh has nothing to do with terrorism anymore. ``She has completely broken with the past,″ he said.

The plane was hijacked Oct. 13, 1977, en route from Majorca to Frankfurt. After stopovers in Rome, Cyprus and several Mideastern cities, the plane ended up in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

The hijackers, from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, were demanding the release of imprisoned group members and of left-wing terrorists of Germany’s Red Army Faction.

German authorities broke off negotiations after the captain was shot and killed in Aden, Yemen. The hijackers also threatened to kill the 83 passengers and remaining four crew members.

A special unit of German anti-terrorist police started a fire on the runway in Mogadishu and locked two of the hijackers in the cockpit. They tossed blinding-light grenades, but the terrorists opened fire anyway and threw two hand grenades.

The three male hijackers were killed in the shoot-out and two German sharpshooters were wounded.

Despite her injuries, al Sayeh reportedly raised the victory sign as she was being led off the plane.

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