Suspect in 1986 hijacking brought to U.S. for trial
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A man convicted in Pakistan in the 1986 hijacking of a Pan Am jetliner in Pakistan will stand trial in the United States on charges of murdering two U.S. citizens in the deadly standoff.
FBI agents in Pakistan took Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini into custody Friday, authorities said Monday. The retrieved him from a Pakistani prison where Safarini had completed a 14-year sentence for the hijacking, which claimed the lives of 22 passengers with many more injured.
Safarini was whisked to Anchorage, Alaska, over the weekend, where he made an initial court appearance in an American court.
He was expected to be transported to Washington to face charges of killing Rajesh Kumar and Surendra Patel during the hijacking standoff in Kurachi, Pakistan, on September 5, 1986. If convicted he could face the death penalty.
U.S. officials Monday were careful not to say that the government of Pakistan had physically turned Safarini over to FBI agents, but they left little doubt his capture had the blessing of the government in Islamabad.
"When you grab somebody in another country, you don't do it without the cooperation of another government," said a federal law enforcement official familiar with the case.
FBI Director Robert Mueller indirectly acknowledged Pakistan's cooperation in a brief written statement.
"Countering terrorism requires a global reach and strong international cooperation and information sharing among law enforcement and prosecutors worldwide," Mueller's statement said. "Today demonstrates the benefit of that principle."
Safarini, thought to be a member of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, was indicted by a Washington grand jury along with five others in 1991.
Officials said there was no connection between the 1986 hijackers and the plot behind the recent suicide hijacking attacks in New York and Washington, but stressed that Safarini's apprehension shows the federal government is serious about fighting fighting terrorism.
"This arrest demonstrates the commitment of the U.S. to track down persons charged with having committed terrorist acts against Americans, no matter how long it takes," said Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The hijacking of Pan Am flight 73 is considered one of the most brutal international terrorist attacks in the 1980s.
It began as passengers were boarding the aircraft in Karachi for a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, en route to New York. Safarini and three other men disguised themselves as security guards and drove what appeared to be a security van directly to the aircraft steps. They ran up the stairs, firing shots, as some members the flight crew escaped the aircraft.
The hijackers took control of the airplane, and for the next 16 hours they held 379 passengers at gunpoint, including 89 Americans and other members of the flight crew, demanding the return of the pilots.
In the process, Kumar was shot and killed. Authorities said the hijackers executed him because he was a U.S. citizen.
Hours later the hijackers herded the passengers into the center of the aircraft, and when the lights went out they opened fire and threw hand grenades into the crowd. Patel and 20 others died.
Safarini and three others were arrested, convicted and sentenced in Pakistan. U.S. officials had no immediate information on the sentences of the accomplices.
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