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A Hezbollah member accused of involvement in 1985 hijacking has died of cancer

American pilot John Testrake taken hostage by an armed man on June 19, 1985 on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport. (Credit: Nabil Ismail/AFP)

A Lebanese man who is wanted by the FBI for his involvement in a 1985 plane hijacking died of cancer on Friday, a relative told AFP.

Ali Atwi is among three Lebanese on a list of people sought by the FBI in connection with the June 14, 1985 hijacking to Beirut of TWA flight 847, during which US Navy diver Robert Stethem was tortured and murdered.

"Ali Atwi died... of cancer," his relative told AFP on the condition of anonymity, without providing additional details.

His whereabouts before his death remain unknown.

Atwi is a member of Hezbollah.

The Iran-backed group said it will receive condolences for Atwi on Saturday in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

It mourned him as one of its "loyal men."

TWA Flight 847 was traveling from Cairo to San Diego with stops in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles. It was hijacked on June 14, 1985 after it took off from Athens.

Over 17 days, TWA pilot John Testrake was forced to crisscross the Mediterranean with his 153 passengers and crew members, from Beirut to Algiers and back again, landing in Beirut three times before he was finally allowed to stop.

The hijackers' demands included the release of Shiite Muslims held by Israel.

On June 15, 1985 during the first stop in Beirut, one of the passengers, 23-year-old US Navy diver Robert Stethem, was severely beaten, shot point blank in the head and his body thrown onto the tarmac. 

The United States had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information on Atwi for his role in planning and participating in the hijacking.

Washington has issued many charges against him, including air piracy resulting in murder and placing a destructive device aboard an aircraft.


A Lebanese man who is wanted by the FBI for his involvement in a 1985 plane hijacking died of cancer on Friday, a relative told AFP.

Ali Atwi is among three Lebanese on a list of people sought by the FBI in connection with the June 14, 1985 hijacking to Beirut of TWA flight 847, during which US Navy diver Robert Stethem was tortured and murdered.

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