Suspect in 1986 hijacking that killed 22 gets hearing in Anchorage

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Jordanian man accused of hijacking an American airliner in Pakistan back in 1986 made a brief appearance in an Anchorage courtroom Monday before he was whisked back onto a government airplane headed for the nation's capital.

There, Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini will face federal charges from the Karachi incident in which 22 people were killed, including two Americans. He could be executed.

Federal officials all the way to the top touted the arrival in the U.S. of Safarini, 39, who had been jailed in Pakistan since the hijacking of a Pan Am jet there on Sept. 5, 1986.

President George Bush said getting Safarini into American custody illustrated the long reach of the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.

''Sometimes, we'll be able to round somebody up who threatens us today,'' Bush said. ''Sometimes, it may take us a while to catch him. The lesson of this case, and every case, is that this mighty nation won't rest until we protect ourselves, our citizens, and freedom-loving people around the world.''

In the Anchorage courtroom of U.S. District Judge John Sedwick, Safarini was given a first, quick taste of the American justice system, under heavy security.

''He came in for an initial appearance and a Rule 40 hearing, in which the government has to prove he is who we say he is,'' U.S. Attorney Tim Burgess said. ''The hearing was about half an hour.''

Safarini didn't challenge the charges or his identity, said Phillip Reid, special agent in charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Alaska. Safarini was represented by a court-appointed lawyer from Anchorage. Reid wouldn't name the attorney.

Officials were also vague about how Safarini came into their control.

''I can't say specifically which countries provided assistance,'' Reid said ''Definitely other governments and their law enforcement agencies made this happen. We hope it continues.''

Echoing the president, Reid said the arrest of Safarini ''shows how long our memory is, and how long our reach is if Americans are harmed or murdered.''

Safarini and five others were indicted by a federal grand jury in 1991 on 126 charges, including the murders of U.S. citizens Rajesh Kumar and Surendra Patel. They were among the 22 people killed in the hijacking.

The charges against Safarini include murder of U.S. nationals outside the U.S., hostage taking, and aircraft piracy. The maximum penalty is death.

Authorities say Safarini was one of four men who disguised themselves as security guards and drove a van through a guarded gate at the Karachi airport. They stopped at the stairs of an airplane that was headed for Germany and then New York. There were 379 passengers and crew on the plane, including 89 Americans. But the flight crew escaped.

Over the next 16 hours, the hijackers executed Kumar in an attempt to enforce their demand that the flight crew return. But when the plane's auxiliary power unit stopped working, the hijackers opened fire on the passengers and threw hand grenades at them, killing 21 more, including Patel, the second American victim.

Safarini and the three others were captured in Pakistan and convicted there. Safarini served 14 years in a Pakistana prison before he was released and then taken into custody by the FBI.



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