Mohammed Saleh went down, thinking it was a matter that would only take a few minutes. He ended up being detained for five days in southern Greece on suspicion of involvement in one of the most notorious hijackings of all time: The 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847.
His wife, Leila, and one of his friends were able to see Saleh several hours after he was detained last Thursday at an immigration office where he was being held and he was given the right to use a mobile telephone. A day later, she was told that he was taken to the Greek island of Syros where a prosecutor would question him, based on a request by German authorities.
Saleh's telephone was then confiscated and the family lost contact with him in Syros. Authorities even prevented a lawyer from reaching him, saying only Lebanese diplomats can do so. The first time the family was able to talk to him again was on Sunday through the telephone of a Lebanese diplomat who flew from Athens to be with Saleh.
"He was distressed when we spoke with him," Leila told The Associated Press in a suburb of Sidon, holding back tears. "We boosted his morale telling him we will not leave you alone and all the people in Lebanon are concerned about you."
On Monday, Saleh was set free after it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity and he is expected to fly back to Lebanon on Wednesday. Greek police said the name on his passport had come up on a European police computer system as that of a man wanted by Germany over the hijacking, in which an American was killed.
The Greek police statement said German authorities were unable to identify the suspect and finally said Monday afternoon that they wouldn't be seeking his extradition because he was not the man they wanted. The Greek police never released the man's name.
"They ruined our lives in these few days," Leila Saleh said, speaking in the sitting room of her house, which is decorated with several framed photos and paintings of Saleh. She said they became aware of Saleh's release when he sent his son a text message on Monday night saying that he was set free.
Asked if they plan to take legal measures against Germany or the European Union, she said it's up to Saleh to decide when he comes back. Also asked whether they will travel to Europe again, she said yes but not to Greece or Germany.
"It is regrettable that modern countries don't have a fast exchange of information about a person," she said, adding that had German authorities sent some details right after the arrest it would have become clear who he is, whether through his mother's name or fingerprints.
"A man was subjected to injustice for five days because they cannot check information," Leila Saleh said angrily. She said her husband was subjected to slander by being accused of being "an experienced terrorist."
On Tuesday morning, Saleh sent the AP a short text message: "I am still working on the release documents. I am free but there are some measures in order to get a visa." Saleh, a longtime journalist for Lebanon's As-Safir daily, which folded in 2016, needs a visa now to be able to travel to Athens as those going on cruises don't need one since they only spend a few hours on the island.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said authorities in Greece were told by the Germans that Mohammed Saleh is not the wanted man and was released late Monday. TWA Flight 847 was commandeered by hijackers shortly after taking off from Athens on June 14, 1985. It originated in Cairo and had San Diego as its final destination, with stops scheduled in Athens, Rome, Boston and Los Angeles.
The hijackers shot and killed U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, 23, after beating him unconscious. They released the other 146 passengers and crew members on the plane during an ordeal that included stops in Beirut and Algiers. The last hostage was freed after 17 days.
Several Greek media outlets had identified the Mykonos detainee as Mohammed Ali Hammadi, who was arrested in Frankfurt in 1987 and convicted in Germany for the hijacking and Stethem's slaying. Hammadi, an alleged member of Islamic militant group Hezbollah, was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in 2005 and returned to Lebanon.
Germany resisted pressure to extradite him to the United States after Hezbollah abducted two German citizens in Beirut and threatened to kill them. Hammadi, along with fellow hijacker Hasan Izz-Al-Din and accomplice Ali Atwa, remains on the FBI's list of most wanted terrorists. The FBI offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to each man's capture.