December 23, 2005

December 23, 2005 | Commentary on Europe

Germany Capitulates to Terrorism

The extraordinary decision by German authorities to release convicted terrorist and murderer Mohammad Ali Hammadi should be strongly condemned by both the Bush Administration and Congress. Hammadi's release and subsequent safe passage to Lebanon raise major questions regarding Germany's commitment to the war on terror, and will cast a huge shadow over the forthcoming January 11 White House meeting between President Bush and newly elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The United States must send a clear message that Hammadi's release is unacceptable, and that immediate action will be taken to ensure that this brutal terrorist will be brought to justice. Both the House and the Senate should pass resolutions condemning the release of Mohammad Ali Hammadi. Congress and the Bush Administration should call on Lebanon to hand over Hammadi for trial in the United States to face justice under American law. If Lebanon does not comply with this request, the U.S. should hunt down and seize Hammadi under its policy of 'rendition' of terror suspects.

Hammadi, a Shiite militant from Lebanon, was convicted by a German court in 1989 of the brutal killing of U.S. Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem in the June 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome by Hezbollah terrorists. Stethem, who was singled out because he was an American serviceman, was savagely beaten before being executed and dumped by the terrorists on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport. Stethem was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His killers all escaped from the scene of the hijacking.

Hammadi was subsequently arrested at Frankfurt Airport in 1987 carrying liquid explosives in his luggage. He was sentenced to life in prison in Germany (after German refusals to hand him over for trial in the United States), but was released last week and flown back to Lebanon after serving just 18 years behind bars. Hammadi was freed in the face of strong opposition from the U.S. Government, and returned to his home country despite a long-standing American request for his extradition to the United States. The decision to release Hammadi was taken without consultation with the family of Robert Stethem, who were not even informed in advance that their son's killer was about to be freed.

The timing of Hammadi's release was significant. It came just a couple of days before the release in Iraq of German hostage Susanne Osthoff, an archaeologist who was held captive for several weeks after being kidnapped in the north-western region of the country. The German government is firmly rejecting any suggestion that Hammadi's release was part of an agreement to free Osthoff. However, Hammadi's exit from Germany raises major concerns over how exactly the Germans secured Osthoff's freedom, especially in light of an alleged secret deal between the Italian government and Iraqi insurgents to gain the release of two Italian hostages in August this year.

The release of Mohammad Ali Hammadi is a deeply insensitive as well as dangerous move by the German government. It projects an image of cowardice and weakness in the war on terror, and sends a powerful signal to terrorist groups such as Al-Qeada and Hezbollah that continental European leaders lack the stomach for the fight. It will embolden the West's most vicious enemies, and will only encourage more acts of terror on European soil by Islamic terrorists. It will also sow the seeds of further division between the United States and Europe, a stated policy goal of the wide array of terrorist groups who threaten international security.

It is imperative now that the United States does everything in its power to ensure that Hammadi and his fellow hijackers, who were never caught and are still at large, are captured. If nothing is done, Hezbollah will claim victory, and their murderous cohorts will be emboldened to strike again. A clear message must be sent that the brutal murder of American servicemen or civilians will neither be tolerated nor forgotten.

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is a fellow in Anglo-American security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Europe

First appeared in Human Events Online