Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The New Yorker

My Reunion with a Lebanese Hijacker
By Robin Wright 
I met “Hamza” Akel Hamieh in Beirut in the early nineteen-eighties after he had already hijacked six planes—a record to this day—to draw the world’s attention to the kidnapping of Musa al-Sadr, his religious leader. One of the hijackings, in 1981, was among the longest in aviation history. He commandeered a Libyan plane, midair between Zurich and Tripoli, and ordered it on a six-thousand-mile transcontinental odyssey to Beirut, then Athens, Rome, Beirut again, and Tehran, before ending back in Lebanon. Hamieh walked away, free, from all six hijackings. No one was injured or killed.

It took me a couple of years to find Hamieh in Beirut’s militia labyrinth, amid the chaos of a civil war and the Israeli occupation. He moved among the front lines. I finally found him at his uncle’s home. We talked for hours about his life and his war stories. He was a case study of how men turn to militancy and violence, and he became a chapter in my first book.

I went back to Lebanon this fall and saw Hamieh again, more than three decades after we’d first met. His hair had turned silver, and he grown a little paunchy. The first thing I asked was whether Hamieh had hijacked any planes since we last met. He laughed. “No,” he said, though the issue that had spurred all six hijackings, carried out between 1979 and 1982, had never been resolved.
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