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Hijacking Defendant Says Passenger’s Death Was An Accident

February 20, 1989

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ A 22-year-old Lebanese on trial for the shooting death of a French passenger on a hijacked Air Afrique jet told Switzerland’s highest court Monday that the killing was an accident.

″I did not want to kill anyone, I only wanted to liberate my friends,″ Hussein Hariri said, referring to his demands for the release of Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Hariri went on trial Monday on charges of murder, attempted murder, hostage-taking and four lesser counts stemming from the July 24, 1987, hijacking. The DC-10, which carried 164 passengers, was diverted to Geneva while en route from the Congolese capital of Brazzaville to Paris.

The defendant said passenger Xavier Beaulieu, 28, was shot when he got out of his seat and made a threatening move.

Chief Judge Jean-Jacques Leu noted that according to a forensic expert, Beaulieu was shot in the head from behind from less than a foot away. Beaulieu’s head had been covered with a blanket, Leu said.

″Pretending that you killed him accidentally is an absurd attitude,″ prosecutor Willy Heim told Hariri. ″It will turn against you.″

Hariri declined to confirm that he had been on a Hezbollah mission at the time of the hijacking. He said he would not talk about his ″private life and political activities.″

″What I did was by conviction,″ he said.

Hezbollah is Lebanon’s most militant Moslem faction. It is considered an umbrella for the groups holding most of the 15 foreign hostages in Lebanon. A Swiss Red Cross delegate was held captive for a month in Lebanon late last year in an apparent attempt to win a lenient sentence for Hariri. The Swiss said no concessions were made.

Police carrying submachine guns guarded the Federal Criminal Court, which only hears cases of particular gravity and last convened six years ago. The court building was ringed by barbed wire and nearby streets were closed to traffic.

The bearded defendant, wearing an olive-colored jacket, insisted on a court interpreter but frequently switched from Arabic to French.

Hariri suggested the court had no standing to try him.

″I did not take any action against the Swiss,″ he said. ″This was not a Swiss plane. There was no Swiss among the passengers. I did not have any demands from the Swiss except refueling. That is why I protest this judgment.″

During the hijacking, authorities said Hariri threatened to blow up the plane with TNT. However, he told the court the threat ″was just words, I did not intend to explode it.″

Asked by the chief judge to confirm that he paid the equivalent of $6 to bypass security checks at Bangui, the capital of Central Africa, where he boarded the plane, Hariri said: ″I do not know.″

After seizing control of the plane over Italy, the hijacker demanded to be flown to Beirut but agreed to stop in Geneva for fuel. After the plane landed at Cointrin Airport, the hijacker shot and killed Beaulieu and threatened to kill another Frenchman.

Crew members subdued Hariri after a Congolese steward was shot and seriously injured. Police stormed the plane when passengers opened the emergency doors.

Update hourly