Springing a trap set by months of diplomatic pressure, FBI agents Thursday seized one of the most notorious airplane hijackers of the 1980s in an airport in Lagos, Nigeria, and bundled him aboard a flight for the United States, administration officials said.
The man, Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq, is to be arraigned Friday morning on charges stemming from the Nov. 23, 1985, hijacking of an Egypt Air flight from Athens to Cairo that ended in the deaths of 2 hijackers and 60 passengers, including an American.The operation marks only the second opportunity for the United States to use "long-arm statutes" passed by Congress to give federal prosecutors jurisdiction to prosecute terrorist acts against Americans outside this country.
Rezaq, the lone survivor of three Palestinian hijackers, was convicted in Malta and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But he was released in February - in response to pressure from Libya, officials believe - and fled to Ghana.
After several months of delicate negotiations, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were aboard when Rezaq was put onto a flight from Kotoka International Airport in Ghana to Lagos, the officials said. After he was refused entry by Nigeria, in a plan that had been approved by authorities there, he was put on a flight bound for Washington.
A government official said Thursday night that Rezaq had surrendered without incident. He was then placed aboard an American government jet.
"I hate to say any international operation is routine," the official said, "but this one has gone quite well. It's a great day in the international fight against terrorism."
Rezaq's role in the hijacking was particularly noteworthy. The plane landed in Malta for refueling, and when authorities would not comply with the hijackers' requests, he shot two passengers and kicked their bodies to the tarmac.
One of those killed was Scarlett Rogenkamp, of Oceanside, Calif.; the other, Nitzan Mendelson, was an Israeli.
Another American woman, Jackie Pflug, who had been shot in the head and left for dead on the tarmac for nearly three hours, recovered.
Fifty-eight other passengers died when Egyptian commandos stormed the plane.