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Deal spares life of '86 jet hijacker

By Associated Press
Published November 13, 2003

WASHINGTON - The leader of Palestinian terrorists who took over a Pan Am jet in Pakistan in 1986 and killed 22 people won't face the death penalty under a plea bargain disclosed Wednesday.

The deal involving Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini was announced during a hearing Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. Details are to remain secret until a hearing on Dec. 16 that victims and their relatives will be invited to attend, Sullivan said. Safarini, wearing an orange prison jump suit, sat with an interpreter in the courtroom and said "Yes," when Sullivan asked if he was satisfied with his lawyer.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers declined to comment on the plea bargain, citing the court order. However, as part of the deal, prosecutors are expected to drop their appeal of an earlier Sullivan ruling that the death penalty cannot be applied in this case.

The case was the first in which federal prosecutors had sought the death penalty for a hijacker.

Sullivan ruled April 10 that at the time Safarini and three other members of the Abu Nidal Palestinian terrorist organization took over a Pan Am Boeing 747 there was no federal law calling for the death penalty in air piracy cases.

Court papers say Safarini led the group who boarded the plane while it was parked at Karachi Airport in Pakistan on Sept. 5, 1986. After a 15-hour standoff, the hijackers gathered the passengers and crew in one area of the plane and began shooting and throwing hand grenades. In all, 22 people were killed, including two Americans, and more than 100 wounded before the men were apprehended.

The four hijackers, and a fifth mastermind, were convicted in Pakistan and given death sentences that were commuted to life imprisonment.

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