Hostages freed in Algiers from a hijacked Kuwait Airways jet arrived home Thursday to a tumultuous reception, but the whereabouts of the hijackers remains unclear.
Western diplomatic sources said they have evidence that the hijackers had reached Beirut. Officials at Beirut International Airport denied that they landed there.
Cheers of joy, white doves and an embrace from the Emir of Kuwait greeted the 29 freed hostages as they came home to a heroes' welcome.
Relatives beamed ecstatically and Girl Scouts tossed flower petals as the released captives stepped off a special flight from Algiers after 16 harrowing days aboard a hijacked Boeing 747.
The Emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, and Crown Prince Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah led a group of government officials and relatives who were at the Kuwait airport to meet the former captives.
The special Kuwait Airways Boeing 767 carrying the 22 passengers and seven crew members touched down Thursday night after a six-hour flight from Algiers. Two other hostages released early Wednesday were Saudi Arabian citizens and were flown home in a private executive jet.
The gunmen, who murdered two hostages while the hijacked jumbo jet was in Cyprus last week, disappeared before dawn Wednesday after abandoning their attempt to force Kuwait to release 17 pro-Iranian terrorists jailed for bombing the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Both slain captives were Kuwaitis.
Kuwait refused any concessions to the hijackers--believed to number as many as nine--but Algeria apparently promised them passage to a country of their choice if they freed the hostages unharmed.
Algeria, criticized by the United States and other Western governments, has refused to acknowledge making a deal with the hijackers. There was no reference to them Thursday by any of its media.