Kuwait City: Slain Hezbollah commander Emad Mughnieh was behind the hijacking of a Kuwait Airways flight in 1988 and the death of two of its Kuwaiti passengers, according to Kuwait's interior minister.

Although Mughnieh's name has been linked in Kuwait with the hijacking 20 years ago, this was the first public statement here directly blaming the shadowy fugitive and one of the world's most wanted terror suspects.

Divine vengeance

The interior minister, Shaikh Jaber Al Khalid Al Sabah, said in comments published in the Alrai daily that the Hezbollah militant's death made Kuwaitis happy but that "we are not gloating. The killing of the criminal Emad Mughnieh was divine vengeance from those who killed the sons of Kuwait and threw them from planes at Limassol Airport in Cyprus," the minister said.

Mughnieh was killed in a car bombing in the Syrian capital late on Tuesday, nearly 15 years after going into hiding. He was suspected of masterminding attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon and of kidnapping Westerners there.

On April 5, 1988, Shiite gunmen hijacked a Kuwait Airways jumbo jet en route from Thailand to Kuwait City. They diverted it to Iran, Cyprus and Algeria, demanding Kuwait free 17 pro-Iranian terrorists jailed for attacks in Kuwait.

After a 16-day ordeal and the murder of two Kuwaiti passengers, hijackers freed the hostages and were allowed to leave Algiers.

In the Alrai report on Thursday, an unnamed Egyptian flight attendant was quoted as saying he was on the hijacked flight, as also on another one in 1984 that was also hijacked, and pinpointed Mughnieh as being the ringleader of both operations.


The attendant, who the paper did not identify citing security reasons, described Mughnieh as "heartless and more hardhearted than the devil" and said that during the 1988 hijacking, the militant tried to kill him.

"His image is stuck in my brain and I will never forget him," the attendant said.

Shiite gunmen seized a Kuwait Airways plane on December 3, 1984 and forced it to fly to Tehran, Iran. Two Americans were killed before a five-day standoff ended when Iranian security forces surprised the hijackers.

A Kuwaiti interior ministry spokesman, Colonel Mohammad Al Saber, confirmed the minister's comments about the 1988 hijacking in response to queries by The Associated Press, but declining to provide any further information. The spokesman also declined to say if Mughnieh was involved in the 1984 airline hijacking.

Mottaki at funeral

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was in Lebanon on Thursday to attend the funeral ceremony for the top Hezbollah commander and offered condolences to the fighter's family.

Mottaki, accompanied by Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, shook hands with and later stood in line with the grieving nearest of kin and associates of Emad Mughnieh.

With Mughnieh's father, Fayez, on his left, and Shaikh Naim Kassem, a deputy leader of Hezbollah, on his right, the Iranian official also accepted condolences.