A group of Palestinian hijackers who took over a Lufthansa jet in the skies over India two days ago has released the crew and surrendered at an airstrip in the Yemen.
All the 172 passengers – including Joseph Kennedy, son of the late Senator Robert Kennedy – were freed yesterday after painstaking negotiations with the prime minister of Yemen, Nasser Muhammad, and West German officials.
The five Palestinians had demanded an undisclosed sum of money and the release of three Jordanians under arrest in West Germany after a shooting took place in Cologne on 6 February. Women and children were released first from the New Delhi-Athens Boeing 747 and flown to Frankfurt.
It was followed this afternoon by a Lufthansa Boeing 707 carrying all the male passengers. The men had had to wait in the second Boeing for three hours parked near the hijacked plane while talks with the guerrillas continued.
As the Palestinians were led away, 14 crew members emerged tonight from the aircraft looking tense after their two-day ordeal but still smart in their black and gold uniforms. Explosives experts then boarded the plane to defuse charges planted on the aircraft.
Among the hijacked passengers was 19-year-old Joseph Kennedy, whose father was assassinated by a Palestinian, Sirhan Sirhan in 1968. On his release he told journalists he did not think he was the target behind the hijacking. “I do not think the plane was hijacked because of me. I was not certain I was going to be aboard,” he said.
According to one stewardess, Karin Bode, released earlier because of health problems, they had at first ordered the plane to land at a desert airstrip near Amman in Jordan.
But the pilot had talked them out of this saying the plane was too large to land there and flew the plane to its intended destination – Aden in the Yemen.
Courtesy BBC News
It later emerged the hijackers belonged to the PFLP (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and had been paid USD500m in ransom. The South Yemen government was also paid $1m for allowing the jet to land on its territory.
Working with other groups, the PFLP pioneered aircraft hijackings as a high profile means of drawing attention to their movement, most notably the capture of an Air France plane en route from Paris to Athens in 1976.
The plane was flown to Entebbe in Uganda, where after a standoff, Israel launched a dramatic commando raid to rescue nearly 100 hostages.
The decline and collapse of the Soviet Union, its main supporter, during the late 1980s undermined the PFLP, and the group lost ground to the radical Islamic Hamas movement.
The succession of Abu Ali Mustafa – who replaced the founder of the movement, George Habash – in 2000, was seen by many in Israel as heralding a return to the group’s radical policies of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.