1. Archive

Man convicted in '85 hijacking

Published Sep. 16, 2005

A Lebanese-born Palestinian who admitted killing two jet passengers and wounding three others during a hijacking was convicted of air piracy Friday.

Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq, 38, faces a maximum life prison term when he is sentenced in U.S. District Court on Oct. 7.

Rezaq, who commandeered Egypt Air Flight 648 shortly after takeoff from Athens, Greece, on Nov. 23, 1985, argued that he had been driven insane by the Middle East conflict.

After Rezaq and his two companions forced the plane down in Malta, they announced that they were members of the Egyptian Revolutionary Organization, a group opposed to the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel.

In all, 60 people died during the hijacking, including two of the three hijackers. Most passengers were killed when Egyptian commandos stormed the plane and an explosion went off as the aircraft sat on a runway on the Mediterranean island of Malta.

Rezaq served seven years for murder in Malta before being freed, then traveled to Ghana and Nigeria in Africa. U.S. officials, outraged at his release, extradited him three years ago to stand trial.

Before the verdict, Rezaq's attorney asked for a mistrial because of publicity about the TWA airliner explosion outside New York. Public defender Robert Tucker said the news would influence jurors. The motion was denied.

Tucker had argued Rezaq was a sensitive youth corrupted by constant violence and blistering political rhetoric. "He did do it," he told the jury. "He was at the end of a period of suicidal despair and incredible depression."

In his closing argument, chief prosecutor Joseph Valder described Rezaq as a coldblooded killer.

Valder quoted Hani Galal, pilot of the Egypt Air flight, as describing Rezaq "as calm, cool, dispassionate . . . coldblooded" when he shot his victims.