U.S. Vows to Pursue Another Freed Hezbollah Terrorist; TWA Hijacker Still at Large

Patrick Goodenough | November 19, 2012 | 4:41am EST
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President Ronald Reagan addresses the freed American hostages from TWA Flight 847, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, on July 2, 1985. (Photo: Reagan Presidential Library archives)

(Update: The Treasury Department on Monday added Ali Musa Daqduq to a list of individuals subject to U.S. sanctions, describing him as “a dangerous Hezbollah operative responsible for planning and carrying out numerous acts of terrorism in Iraq.”)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration vows it will “pursue all legal means” to bring to justice a top Hezbollah terrorist released by the Iraqis last week, but in the past --  when a Hezbollah member with American blood on his hands was freed and returned to Lebanon -- neither bounty offers nor appeals to Beirut succeeded in achieving such a goal.

Republican lawmakers are furious that Ali Musa Daqduq, one of the most senior Hezbollah figures ever to have been in U.S. custody, has been freed and allowed to return to Lebanon.

Daqduq is suspected in the 2007 killings of five American soldiers, four of whom were abducted and subsequently murdered. He was captured and held in U.S. custody until handed over to the Iraqis on the eve of the final U.S. troop departure late last year.

Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper quoted Daqduq’s lawyer, Abdel Mahdi al-Matari, as saying his now-freed client had been arrested without any documentary evidence to back up U.S. accusations against him.

According to the U.S. military, Daqduq, a Lebanese national, was a key link between Hezbollah, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, and Shi’ite “special groups” that carried out numerous deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq.

When he was transferred to Iraqi custody, some Republican lawmakers, who had earlier unsuccessfully urged the administration to bring Daqduq before a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, voiced concerns that he would never be held to account for his actions.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said at the time the Iraqis had assured the U.S. that justice would be done: “We take this case extremely seriously, and for that reason have sought and received assurances that he will be tried for his crimes.”

After the Iraqis released Daqduq last week, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. has to respect Iraq’s decision “as a sovereign nation” but continues to believe he should be held accountable for his crimes.

“While we strongly object to his release, we’ve been informed by the Iraqis that they determined that they were no longer able to hold him under Iraqi law,” she told a briefing Friday.

“As with other terrorists who we believe have committed crimes against Americans, we are going to continue to pursue all legal means to see that Daqduq sees justice for the crimes of which he is accused,” Nuland added.

There has been “contact with the government of Lebanon on this issue,” she said.

In 2005, Germany controversially freed convicted Hezbollah terrorist Mohammed Hamadi, 18 years after he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA plane and the murder a U.S. Navy diver, Robert Stethem.

Despite personal intervention by then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Germany freed Hamadi and allowed him to return to Beirut, where he reportedly rejoined Hezbollah. At the time, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declared, “I think what I can assure anybody who’s listening, including Mr. Hamadi, is that we will track him down. We will find him, and we will bring him to justice in the United States for what he’s done.”

TWA Flight 847 was seized in June 1985 during an Athens-Rome flight and diverted to Lebanon with its 153 passengers and crew. The terrorists badly beat Stethem, 23, over a period of time before shooting him, dumping his body onto the Beirut runway.

The hijacking crisis dragged on for 17 days, during which the remaining hostages were freed in stages.

Hamadi was arrested in Germany two years later after he flew into Frankfurt airport in 1987, trying to smuggle liquid explosives. The West German government denied U.S. requests to extradite him, putting him on trial there instead. Found guilty of hijacking, hostage-taking and the murder of Stethem, he was sentenced in 1989 to life imprisonment.

After his release, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with members of Stethem’s family in February 2006 to discuss the matter, but U.S. appeals to the Lebanese government to extradite him were unsuccessful. The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon.

To this day Hamadi (aka Hammadi, Hamadei) remains on the FBI’s list of “most wanted terrorists,” with a reward of $5 million offered under the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. “He is thought to be in Lebanon,” the FBI notice says.

Two other Hezbollah members indicted in the U.S. along in connection with the TWA hijacking, Hassan Izz-al-Din and Ali Atwa, remain at large, also believed to be in Lebanon. U.S. reward offers remain unclaimed. A third, Hezbollah terror chief Imad Mughniyah, was killed in a 2008 bomb blast in Syria which Hezbollah blames on Israel.

‘Free to rejoin the terrorists’

In July 2011, 20 Republican senators and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, voicing concern that transferring Daqduq to Iraqi custody would result in his eventual release and return to terrorism.

“It is absolutely clear that the policy option that most reduces the risk to Americans’ safety is the one that the administration apparently refuses to consider – law of war detention at Guantanamo with or without trial by military commission,” they wrote.

News of his release drew some strong reaction late last week.

“Many of us warned that the transfer of Daqduq to the Iraqis would result in his release,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The administration ignored these warnings, and now a terrorist with American blood on his hands is walking free in Lebanon. There is little doubt that Daqduq is again collaborating with fellow members of Hezbollah in anticipation of their next terrorist attack.”

Two other members of the committee, ranking member Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) called the release “disgraceful,” saying in a joint statement the Lebanese was “now free to rejoin the terrorists bent on the destruction of America and its allies.”

McCain and Graham voiced concern that a similar situation may occur in Afghanistan as the U.S. draws down its forces there and transfers detainees to Kabul.

“The administration must tell the American people exactly how it will ensure that terrorists in Afghanistan with American and allied blood on their hands will be brought to justice.”

In the House of Representatives, the chairmen of the Armed Services, Intelligence, Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees in a joint statement said the terrorist’s release “calls into question the Obama administration’s decision to turn Daqduq over to Iraqi authorities in the first place, and is yet another national security threat that could have been avoided had the president been successful in his negotiations to secure a long-term status of forces agreement with the government of Iraq.”

“Due to this failure, a senior Hezbollah operative with American blood on his hands is now free in one of the most unstable regions of the world,” said Reps. Howard “Buck” McKeon (Calif.), Mike Rogers (Mich.), Lamar Smith (Texas) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.)

The five soldiers killed in the January 2007 incident for which Daqduq is blamed were Capt. Brian Freeman, 31, of Temecula, Calif., 1st Lieutenant. Jacob Fritz, 25, of Verdon, Neb., Spc. Jonathan Chism, 22, of Gonzales, La., Pfc. Shawn Falter, 25, of Cortland, N.Y., and Pfc. Johnathon Millican, 20, of Trafford, Ala.

The Pentagon says assailants wearing U.S.-style fatigues killed Millican in a hand grenade and gunfire ambush attack, and abducted the other four. Their bodies were later found in the attackers’ abandoned vehicles. They had been shot dead.

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