BYTE OUT OF HISTORY
The Case of the Yachted Terrorist
It was a bright,
clear September day in the international waters of the eastern Mediterranean.
A motorboat carrying a suspected terrorist -- who was distinctly hung
over from too much partying the night before -- approached an 80-foot
sailing yacht. From the yacht's deck, two women in shorts and halter
tops beckoned him to come aboard. He eyed them appreciatively, thinking
ahead to his imminent meeting with Joseph, an international drug dealer,
who was promising him an opportunity to begin a lucrative new career.
Was he ever
about to be surprised.
and Joseph were undercover FBI agents. Once on deck, he was arrested
and taken aboard a U.S. Navy munitions ship, the USS Butte, where
he was read his rights and interrogated. As the Butte steamed toward
a rendezvous with the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, the suspect
confessed to his involvement in several acts of terrorism. From the
Saratoga, he was flown for a record-breaking thirteen hours in a
Navy Viking S-3 jet to be arraigned in Washington, D.C., and ultimately
was tried, convicted, and sentenced in a U.S. court. Case closed.
significance of this remarkable operation? This was the first
international terrorist to be apprehended overseas and brought back
to the United States to stand trial.
When did it
happen? Seventeen years ago this week, on September 13, 1987.
Who was the
terrorist? Fawaz Younis, one of the individuals implicated
in the 1985 hijacking of a Royal Jordanian airliner. After taking the
passengers hostage – including two Americans – and making
several demands that were not met, the hijackers ordered the airplane's
crew to land first in Cyprus, then Sicily, and finally Beirut. There
they released the hostages, held a press conference, blew up the plane
on the tarmac, and fled.
did not know was that his actions triggered a law passed by
Congress just the year before -- the Comprehensive Crime Control Act
of 1984 -- that gave the FBI jurisdiction over terrorist acts in which
Americans were taken hostage – no matter where the acts occurred.
That authority was expanded in 1986 with the passage of the Omnibus
Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act.
Thus "Operation Goldenrod"-- the first time those new authorities
were used, sending a message to terrorists that we would pursue them no matter
where they tried to hide.
What was the
outcome? Younis was convicted of conspiracy, aircraft piracy,
and hostage-taking. In October 1989, he was sentenced to 30 years in