GENEVA -- An Arab gunman hijacked an Air Afrique DC-10 jetliner with 163 people on board today, forcing it to land at Cointrin Airport where he killed one man before crew members and security forces overpowered him, authorities said.
The hijacker had demanded to be flown to the Middle East and reportedly has links with Hezbollah, the group blamed for kidnapping Americans in Lebanon.
Security police troops stormed the aircraft after passengers at the rear of the plane opened the doors and triggered escape chutes. Hospital officials said 31 passengers were injured jumping from the aircraft or sliding down escape chutes that were not fully extended.
After the escape chutes opened, authorities said, crew members had 'a split-second chance' to struggle with the hijacker, who had threatened to kill passengers unless he was flown to the Middle East, and wrestled him to the floor.
Security forces dragged the hijacker headfirst down the stairs leading from the airplane, which had been on a flight from Rome to Paris when it was hijacked.
An airplane steward was shot in the stomach during the scuffle with the hijacker, identified as Hussein Ali Mohammed Hariri, from southern Lebanon. Hospital officials said the steward was in serious condition after a three-hour operation.
Before the hijacking came to an end -- more than four hours after it was diverted to Geneva's Cointrin Airport -- the hijacker killed French national Xavier Beaulieu, 28, by shooting him in the back of the neck, Swiss authorities said.
Officials said the murder was carried out in an attempt to force the pilot to fly the plane, carrying 148 passengers and 15 crew members, to Beirut.
A Lebanese Moslem Shiite source said Hariri is a member of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is believed to be holding some 24 foreign hostages in Lebanon. The source also said Hariri is a close friend of Mohammed Ali Hamadei, in a West German prison on charges of murder and hijacking in connection with the 1985 TWA hijacking.
The gunman commandeered the airliner at 7:30 a.m. midway between Rome and Paris, the last leg on a flight from the Congolese capital of Brazzaville.
Michel Gregoire, 37, a French passenger, told reporters the pilot had told everyone the plane would land at Geneva instead of Paris.
'We thought at first that a bomb may be on board,' Gregoire said. 'A steward then collected all passports, coming back later and returning all except French passports.
'Some time after 9:30 a.m., the first- and business-class cabins were evacuated with people going to the back and the hijacker ordered three French passengers to go the front as hostages. One was killed but we didn't hear any shot at the rear of the plane.'
Gregoire and Canadian Walter Cholowa told reporters that at about 11:30 a.m., after being told the hijacker wanted to go to Beirut, that passengers decided to act.
'It was either that or Beirut,' they both said.
They said they were able to open the left rear door, which automatically opened other exits.
'There was some panic with people rushing to the doors,' Gregoire said. 'Some of them jumped onto the wings, and I opened an escape chute manually when it failed to extend automatically.'
Swiss officials and French government authorities in Paris agreed at the outset that the plane would not be allowed to leave Geneva, said Geneva government president Robert Ducret.
In Bern, Vice Chancellor Achille Casanova said there had been 64 French nationals aboard the plane and the Swiss government 'immediately made a connection with France's current difficulties with Iran.'
Swiss government officials said France had offered the services of special troops but Switzerland preferred to act on its own, Casanova said.
Pro-Iranian Moslem extremist had threatened to attack French nationals, embassies and other French interests in retaliation for France's decision last week to sever ties with Iran.
Today's hijacking was the first reported hijacking this year that involved diversion of a plane or loss of life and the first involving suspected Arab terrorists since December.
It also was the first hijacking to originate in Western Europe since the June 14, 1985, hijacking of TWA Flight 847 that developed into a 17-day hostage drama. The flight from Athens to Rome eventually landed in Beirut where a hostage U.S. sailor was killed.
In Beirut, a spokesman for the International Red Cross delegation in Lebanon, said Hariri was detained in the Ansar prison in southern Lebanon between 1984 and 1985.
Lebanese security sources said Hariri, a Shiite Lebanese from the village of Kfardounine, 12 miles north of the Israeli border, was transferred in 1985 to a prison inside Israel and released from the Israeli prison in spring 1987.
Lebanese local radio reports quoted French government sources as saying the hijacker had apparently demanded the release by West Germany of Hamadei and Hamadei's brother Ali, two Lebanese Shiite facing trial on terrorist charges in Bonn.
Ducret said the French pilot reported that the hijacker fired two shots before forcing his way into the cockpit and demanding to be flown to Beirut.
'But the pilot said there was not enough fuel and proposed landing at Geneva to refuel,' Ducret said. 'The hijacker agreed because he refused categorically to go on to Paris.'
An airport press spokesman said the 'agreement to refuel was to gain time and calm the hijacker.'
Air Afrique has headquarters in the west African republic of the Ivory Coast.