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U.S. seeks extradition of accused killer

Lebanon asked to hand over suspect from 1985 TWA hijacking

From Elise Labott and Beth Anne Rotatori

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Mohammed Ali Hamadi is seen in photographs from 2004, left, and 2005.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has formally asked the Lebanese government to extradite a Lebanese man accused of killing a U.S. Navy diver during an infamous 1985 hijacking, State Department officials and the victim's family said Monday.

Mohammed Ali Hamadi was released from a German prison in December after serving 19 years for his role in the hijacking of TWA Flight 847.

During the 17-day ordeal, U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, 23, was beaten and shot dead and his body dumped on a tarmac in Beirut -- an image captured by television cameras and shown around the world.

Officials said Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, has asked Lebanese authorities on several occasions to arrest Hamadi and turn him over to the United States for trial even though the two countries do not have a formal extradition treaty.

Feltman submitted a formal written request for Hamadi's extradition to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora last week.

Hamadi was captured in 1987 in Frankfurt, Germany, and convicted for his role in the hijacking. He was paroled in December, and a German court allowed him to return to Lebanon.

The United States wanted Germany to turn over Hamadi to face a series of charges related to the hijacking, including one charge that could potentially carry the death penalty. But Hamadi is not likely to face a death sentence if he is extradited, according to the Justice Department.

Patrick Stethem, a brother of the murdered diver, said in December that he was "totally disgusted at the German government, and at the United States government for allowing this to have happened."

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in December the United States would "find [Hamadi] and bring him to justice in the United States."

Justice Department prosecutors secretly indicted Hamadi in 1985 in Washington and disclosed the charges in 1997, when they began efforts to have him brought to the United States.

Thirty-nine Americans were among those held hostage on the TWA flight, which was headed from Athens to Rome when it was commandeered. Only Stethem, the lone U.S. serviceman on the plane, was killed.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top U.S. officials met with members of Stethem's family.

Patrick Stethem and another brother, Kenneth, told CNN that Rice briefed them on U.S. efforts in the case and reiterated that the administration would do everything in its power to bring Hamadi and others responsible for the murder to justice.

"It's always difficult to look in the eyes of those who have lost a loved one because of an act of terror," McCormack said Monday.

"I think we all remember that day. And Secretary Rice and this department are committed to doing everything that we can to see that the individuals responsible for that act of terror are brought to justice ... in a U.S. court."

Ali Atwa, Hasan Izz-al-din and Imad Fayez Mugniyah are also believed to be responsible for Stethem's killing and are included in the U.S. extradition request, but it is unclear whether those men are in Lebanon.

The FBI includes those three Lebanese natives on its list of most-wanted terrorists and links them to the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.

Kenneth Stethem called the U.S. request a "positive action" that signaled the American commitment to fighting terrorism.

"The action backed up what they said they were going to do, and we're very grateful," he said. "It was quick, clear and decisive, what they did. And now Lebanon needs to decide whether they'll support terrorism or freedom."

Patrick Stethem called the extradition request a "symbolic action" for the family that "should've happened a long time ago."

He said he hopes it will serve as a starting point for further discussion between the U.S. and Lebanese government on bringing Hamadi and the others to justice.

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