Arab Terrorists Free Hostages, Blow Up Plane
A bizarre two-day hijacking ended at Beirut airport Wednesday when Arab terrorists released their 71 hostages, blew up their commandeered jetliner and drove unmolested to freedom in the war-ravaged streets of the Lebanese capital.
In a strange ending to the drama, a plane carrying eight of the released hostages--including two Americans--from Beirut to Cyprus was later commandeered by another hijacker. He eventually released his prisoners at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport.
In the first incident, the five hijackers, believed to be Lebanese Shia Muslims, began the hijacking odyssey Tuesday morning when they stormed aboard a plane belonging to Alia, the Jordanian airline, which had been scheduled to fly to Amman, the Jordanian capital.
Barred by Tunisia
After taking the plane to Tunisia, where they were refused permission to land, the hijackers forced the plane to Cyprus and then Sicily, where authorities allowed it to be refueled.
The Boeing 727, which carried a crew of nine, eight security guards and 56 passengers, then returned to Beirut airport, which is renowned for its lax security and has been the scene of repeated hijackings in recent months.
A spokesman for Alia in Amman said the hijackers on Wednesday first released the eight Jordanian security guards. Three hours later, they allowed the hostages to board buses that had been sent to the airport.
‘Was Totally Burned’
“No one was hurt. The hijackers planted bombs on the plane, which they then ignited,” the spokesman said. “Flames engulfed the fuselage. It was totally burned.”
The released passengers included the two Americans who found themselves on the second commandeered flight, Landry T. Slade and his 16-year-old son, William. Slade is assistant president of the American University of Beirut and was leaving the Lebanese capital after the Saturday abduction by terrorists of the dean of agriculture, Thomas Sutherland, on his way in from the airport.
Airport officials in Beirut said the hijackers climbed into a jeep and drove off to a remote corner of the airport, where they presumably escaped into the Shia Muslim suburbs that surround the field.
At one point during the hijacking, one of the air pirates identified himself as being a member of what he called the “Group of Martyrs of the Lebanese Resistance.”
The apparent purpose of the plane’s seizure was to express and dramatize Shia unhappiness with the way many Arab nations have criticized the Shia Muslims’ Amal militia for attacking three Palestinian refugee camps in the suburbs near Beirut airport.
Hundreds Were Killed
The fighting, which erupted May 19, is part of Amal’s effort to disarm Palestinian guerrillas living in Lebanon. Hundreds of Amal fighters and Palestinians in the camps have been killed.
The Jordanian airliner was apparently chosen as a hijacking target because the Jordanian government agreed in February with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat that Jordan and the Palestinians would take a joint approach to proposed Mideast peace negotiations.
In addition, Alia is the only foreign airline still flying into the troubled Beirut airport in the wake of several similar hijackings.
One of the hijackers, who gave his name as Nazih, demanded that all Palestinians, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, immediately leave Lebanon.
Libya Backs Palestinians
Another demand was that Libya be forced to release Moussa Sadr, a Shia Muslim cleric who disappeared during a visit to Libya several years ago. The Libyans have supported the Palestinians during the recent camp fighting.
Air hijackings have become so commonplace at Beirut airport that one high-ranking official of Amal admits to having carried out four separate acts of air piracy.
An Alia spokesman said that six cabin crew members who were released from the hijacked Jordanian plane were flown out of Beirut with the two Americans aboard a Middle East Airlines flight. It was commandeered by a single hijacker just before it landed at Larnaca, on the nearby island nation of Cyprus. Middle East Airlines is a Lebanese company.
The 25-year-old hijacker, who later released all of the passengers and crew, was believed to be a Palestinian and was said by a Cypriot official to have been acting “in retaliation” for the earlier hijacking.
There were conflicting accounts of the fate of the hijacker. Police in Larnaca said he surrendered to them but other reports said he had been allowed to board a departing Jordanian airliner.
The remainder of the crew and passengers of the Jordanian plane hijacked Tuesday were flown Wednesday to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, aboard another Middle East Airlines flight. They will return to Jordan today, an Alia spokesman said.