Authorities Say They’re Holding Alleged Hijack Leader
VALLETTA, Malta (AP) _ Maltese authorities said Tuesday a wounded 20-year-old man now under heavy guard in a Valletta hospital led the terrorists who seized an Egyptian jetliner in a 24-hour hijacking that cost 59 lives.
Government spokesman Paul Mifsud told a news conference that the man, listed in satisfactory condition at St. Luke’s Hospital, gave his name as Omar Marzouki and said he was Tunisian.
Hijackers seized the plane Saturday evening, soon after it left Athens for Cairo with 98 people aboard, and forced it to land on this Mediterranean island. Egyptian commandos stormed aboard 24 hours later.
Mifsud said an American woman was killed by the hijackers and 58 other people died in the commando raid and fire that engulfed the plane. He said the earlier total of 60 dead was incorrect because a Canadian infant had been counted twice.
Mifsud said Marzouki had been questioned by Maltese security officials, but ″his health condition has not permitted yet any in-depth interrogation.″ The spokesman said he had not been charged.
The deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy, Joel Levy, said Americans ″from a variety of U.S. Agencies″ were helping in the investigation. He said the U.S. agents were examining the burned-out plane and interviewing witnesses.
In addition to the 59 dead, a 23-year-old Israeli woman was pronounced clinically dead at the hospital, authorities said Tuesday. She was one of five passengers - two Israelis and three Americans - shot execution-style and thrown off the plane at the Malta airport Sunday morning.
One of the Americans was killed by the shootings.
The hijackers freed 13 women - two injured stewardesses, four other Egyptians and seven from the Philippines - after the Egyptair Boeing 737 put down at Malta.
Of the 28 people who survived the Egyptian commando raid, 27 were hospitalized, Mifsud said, and two of those had been released by Tuesday. The other survivor, pilot Hani Galal, returned to Cairo.
Mifsud retracted an earlier statement that Galal, who was held at gunpoint in the cockpit, had identified the hospitalized man as the hijackers’ leader.
″There was a misunderstanding,″ Mifsud said, but added that several other people identified Marzouki as the leader. He did not elaborate and said he could not describe Marzouki’s wounds.
Galal told reporters after the commando raid that he hit the hijack leader with a fire ax as the soldiers stormed the plane but did not think he killed him.
He told The Associated Press by telephone Tuesday: ″I have seen the man I hit with the ax. He’s dead. I saw him last night in the morgue.″
The pilot said he saw Marzouki in the hospital surgery, but ″hHe had masks and all sorts of stuff on his face so it was hard to get a good look at him.″
″I have a suspicion″ he was one of the hijackers, Galal said, ″but I cannot confirm it. ... I have to be very sure.″ He said the hijackers were masked most of the time, making identification difficult.
Maltese magistrate Noel Cuschieri is investigating the case and will report to the attorney general, who will decide whether court action is warranted, Mifsud said.
Asked whether Malta would agree to extradite Marzouki, the spokesman said: ″We will have to see.″ He said he was not aware of any extradition request.
Some witnesses said they saw only three hijackers, one of them believed killed in a shootout with an Egyptian security guard while the plane was in the air, but Mifsud insisted there were five. The Maltese said only one hijacker survived.
Mifsud has said that the only demand the hijackers made was for fuel to fly to a destination they did not disclose. The Maltese government refused to refuel the plane.
Maltese officials said the people hospitalized were from the United States, Israel, Greece, Egypt, Spain, France, Australia and the Philippines.
The American killed was Scarlett Marie Rogenkamp, 38, of Oceanside, Calif. Jackie Nink Pflug, 30, of Pasadena, Texas, suffered a serious head wound and Patrick Scott Baker, 28, of White Salmon, Wash., was grazed by a bullet.
Egypt says the raid’s death toll was high because the gunmen hurled phosphorus grenades during the commando raid, starting fires that swept through the aircraft.
President Hosni Mubarak’s government claims the hijackers were renegade Palestinians financed by Libya, Egypt’s neighbor and arch rival. The Libyans have denied it.