Suspect in 1986 hijacking gets hearing in Anchorage

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- A Jordanian man accused of hijacking an American airliner in Pakistan 15 years ago made a brief appearance in an Anchorage courtroom Monday before he was whisked back onto a government airplane headed for the nation's capital.

There, Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini will face federal charges from the Karachi incident in which 22 people were killed, including two Americans. He could be executed.

Federal officials said Safarini, 39, had been jailed in Pakistan since the hijacking of a Pan Am jet there Sept. 5, 1986.

President George W. Bush said getting Safarini into American custody illustrated the long reach of the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.

"Sometimes, we'll be able to round somebody up who threatens us today," Bush said. "Sometimes, it may take us a while to catch him."

Safarini appeared In the Anchorage courtroom of U.S. District Judge John Sedwick under heavy security. U.S. Attorney Tim Burgess said the half-hour hearing was to legally establish Safarini's identity.

Safarini didn't challenge the charges or his identity, said Phillip Reid, special agent in charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Alaska.

Officials were vague about how Safarini came into their control.

"I can't say specifically which countries provided assistance," Reid said. "Definitely other governments and their law enforcement agencies made this happen. We hope it continues."

Safarini and five others were indicted by a federal grand jury in 1991 on 126 charges, including the murders of U.S. citizens Rajesh Kumar and Surendra Patel. They were among the 22 people killed in the hijacking.

The charges against Safarini include murder of U.S. nationals outside the United States, hostage taking, and aircraft piracy. The maximum penalty is death.

Authorities said Safarini was one of four men who disguised themselves as security guards and drove a van through a guarded gate at the Karachi airport. They stopped at the stairs of an airplane that was headed for Germany and then New York. There were 379 passengers and crew on the plane, including 89 Americans.

The hijackers executed Kumar and later opened fire on the passengers and threw hand grenades at them, killing 21 more, including Patel, the second American victim.

Safarini and the three others were captured in Pakistan and convicted there.

Safarini served 14 years in a Pakistan prison before he was released and taken into custody by the FBI.

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