A former steward for Royal Jordanian airline testified Friday that accused hijacker Fawaz Yunis promised to free all the passengers of a seized aircraft in 1985, then declared "it's out of my hands" and announced that killings would start the next day.
The testimony by Omar el-Ghadi, the government's final prosecution witness, touched on what is emerging as a central issue in the case - whether Yunis was, as he contends, acting under legitimate orders from his superiors in the Amal militia when he led the hijacking.As prosecutors rested their case on the fifth day of the trial, U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson rejected a defense motion for a summary judgment of acquittal.
But the judge left open the possibility he would instruct the jury to consider whether Yunis reasonably could have believed he was receiving a lawful order from his superiors to hijack the plane before it left Beirut for Amman, Jordan. While all the hostages were freed after the 30-hour ordeal, the half dozen terrorists blew up the $15 million Boeing 727.
When Robinson suggested the hijacking may have been an act of war, prosecutor Karen Morrissette told the judge there was "no evidence that Amal functioned in a military sense." In any event, she said, international air piracy could not be construed as lawful.
Robinson warned that the administration's policy in handling the case could pose ramifications for U.S. military personnel arrested abroad.
"We would want the protection from this defense if the shoe were on the other foot, wouldn't we?" Robinson asked.
"Yes, we would," Morrissette replied.
Many aspects of the case are unprecedented. Yunis's arrest on Sept. 13, 1987, after he was lured aboard a yacht full of FBI agents with the promise of a drug deal, was the first under 1984 and 1986 laws allowing the FBI to investigate terrorist incidents overseas in which Americans were victimized.