Palestinian Hijacker Arrested by FBI in Nigeria
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Palestinian who confessed to killing two passengers in a 1985 Egyptian airplane hijacking was in custody here Friday after he was turned over to the FBI in Nigeria.
Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq, a suspected member of the Abu Nidal terrorist group, is charged in the United States with air piracy, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of death or life in prison.
Sixty people died in the hijacking, including 58 after the jet was stormed by Egyptian commandos after the plane landed in Malta.
Rezaq, 30, appeared briefly in federal court Friday. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth entered a plea of not guilty in his behalf after a court- appointed lawyer for Rezaq refused to enter a plea.
The attorney, Sandra Sonenberg, said the defendant is ″not acceding to the court’s jurisdiction″ because Rezaq was seized abroad.
Rezaq, who was dressed in orange prison overalls and was informed of the court proceedings through a translator, will be held without bond pending a court hearing Aug. 2.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Valder said Rezaq should be denied bail because he has confessed to committing a violent crime and is likely to flee the country if freed.
Rezaq was sentenced to 25 years in prison in Malta for his role in the Nov. 23, 1985, hijacking. At the opening of his trial, Rezaq pleaded guilty to fatally shooting Scarlett Rogenkamp, of Oceanside, Calif., and Nitzan Mendelson, an Israeli. He also admitted wounding another American woman, Jackie Pflug, who survived after she was shot in the head and left on the airport tarmac.
But the Lebanese-born Palestinian only served seven years before Malta granted him amnesty, and he flew to Ghana on Feb. 25. He remained there until he boarded a flight that landed in Lagos, Nigeria on Thursday.
The details of his arrest were sketchy.
But the Justice Department said Rezaq was turned over to U.S. law enforcement authorities when Nigeria barred him from entering the country after he arrived there.
In 1987, the FBI arrested a foreign national abroad for alleged crimes against the United States when it captured Fawaz Younis, a Lebanese.
He was lured to a boat off Cyprus by the FBI with the promise of a drug deal. He was convicted of the 1985 hijacking in Beirut of a Jordanian jetliner with two American citizens on board and is serving 30 years in federal prison.
U.S. courts upheld the FBI tactics in that case.
Rezaq and two other gunmen in 1985 hijacked an EgyptAir Boeing 737 en route from Athens, Greece, to Cairo, Egypt, and forced the plane to land in Malta. Rezaq’s two accomplices were killed during the rescue efforts. Rezaq was wounded in the gunfire.
The U.S. House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international security called Rezaq a suspected member of the Abu Nidal organization, a Palestinian terrorist group.
The House panel said Malta had assured the United States that Rezaq would remain in prison until 1996.
U.S. authorities believe he was released under pressure from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, The New York Times reported Friday.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt blamed Abu Nidal for the 1985 hijacking and said the hijackers had Libyan backing. Malta said there was no evidence of Libyan involvement.