32 years on, FBI re-launches search for Pan Am hijacking suspects

WASHINGTON: The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) renewed its pledge to catch four hijackers of the Pan Am Flight 73, almost 32 years after the failed attempt at Karachi airport.

“No matter how much time has passed or the obstacles we encounter, we owe it to the victims and their families to never give up on them,” said the FBI case agent in a statement released to the media along with pictures of the four hijackers.

The attack, which occurred aboard Pan Am Flight 73 during an airport stopover in Karachi on Sept 5, 1986, resulted in the death of 20 passengers and crew. The victims included citizens of the United States, India, Pakistan, Britain, Italy, Denmark, Ireland and Mexico.

The FBI has age-progressed photos of the four hijackers — Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain ar-Rahayyal and Muhammad Ahmed al-Munawar — to enable people to identify them.

Since two Americans were also among those killed in the failed attempt, the FBI is legally bound to continue to seek the suspects until they are either brought to the United States for trial or their death is confirmed.

In the tragedy at Karachi airport, 20 passengers and crew were killed

The US State Department is also offering a $5 million reward for information leading to their arrest, through its Rewards for Justice Programme.

The four suspects are believed to have been members of the Abu Nidal Organisation, which was designated a terrorist organisation by the US Department of State. Each of the men is on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List. The case is being investigated by the agency’s Washington Field Office.

The FBI statement said that it’s “hoping to generate new leads” with the release of new age-progressed images of four alleged hijackers.

“It’s always been an active case of ours,” said the lead FBI agent on the case. He said images of the suspects obtained by the FBI in the year 2000 were age-progressed by the FBI Laboratory. “We’re hoping that with the age-progression photos next to the original photos maybe that will jar some memories or maybe someone has seen these guys walking around.”

Anyone with information in the case is asked to contact the FBI or submit a tip at https://tips.fbi.gov.

According to the FBI, Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki was born on June 21, 1955 in Baghdad; Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim on Sept 5, 1965 in Lebanon; Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain ar-Rahayyal on Nov 27, 1965 in Lebanon; and Muhammad Ahmed al-Munawar on May 21, 1965 in Kuwait. All except Turki have Palestinian as well as Lebanese citizenships. Turki has both Palestinian and Iraqi citizenships.

There were 365 and 16 crew members on the Boeing 747-121 when it arrived at the Karachi airport from Mumbai’s Sahar International Airport on Sept 5, 1986. The Pan American World Airways Flight 73 was preparing to depart Jinnah International Airport for Frankfurt, and then to its final destination, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, when a group of five hijackers seized the plane.

The leader of the group Zayd Hassan Abd al-Latif Masud al-Safarini, also a Palestinian, was prominent member of the Abu Nidal group.

The 17-hour long hijacking came to an end when the hijackers opened fire on passengers at 9.30pm, causing Pakistani commandos to raid the plane. The SSG commando unit was headed by Brigadier Tariq Mehmood, one of Pakistan’s most decorated soldiers. They freed the aircraft and captured the hijackers.

At a trial held in 1988, all of the convicts admitted to having carried out the hijacking and were given death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment.

Safarini was released from prison in Pakistan in 2001 but was arrested a day later by FBI agents in Bangkok on his way to Jordan. In May 2004, a US federal judge in Washington sentenced him to 160 years at Super Max prison in Colorado.

Four other hijackers were released after completing their jail terms and deported to the Palestinian territories. In 2010, news reports claimed that Jamal Saeed Abdul Raheem was killed in a US drone strike on Jan 9, 2010 in North Waziristan.