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Saudi Plane Hijacking Ends Peacefully in Iraq

October 15, 2000|From Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Hijackers who commandeered a Saudi jetliner and took it to Baghdad were arrested late Saturday, Iraqi state television reported, ending a daylong ordeal for more than 100 people on board.

The Boeing 777 was on its way from Saudi Arabia to London when it was seized over the Mediterranean Sea and forced to fly around the Mideast for several hours before landing.

State television and airport officials said the 7 1/2-hour crisis ended at 11:20 p.m. local time after high-ranking government officials negotiated with the two hijackers, who then surrendered peacefully.

The 103 passengers and crew members were reported safe. Officials said they were spending the night at a Baghdad hotel and were expected to leave Iraq today.

No other details were immediately available on how the hijacking ended.

The two hijackers, who said they were Saudis, were later allowed to speak briefly with reporters. They praised Iraqi authorities and criticized their own government.

"We carried out the operation because we believe in the principles of justice and equality," one said. The other said the Saudi people were against the presence of U.S. troops in their territory.

The hijackers, who refused to give their names, said they hadn't asked for political asylum, countering an earlier report.

Al Jazeera satellite television showed the passengers descending a ramp from the plane.

"We are very grateful to the government of Iraq," said a middle-aged man who identified himself only as a Pakistani.

Al Jazeera, a Qatar-based station that broadcasts to the Middle East, also showed a few women, children and several other men descending the ramp surrounded by plainclothes security agents.

Speaking before the release, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official, Taher Haboush, said the hijackers had said they seized the plane because they were upset over an investigation into the Saudi human rights situation that was too favorable to the government.

The hijackers also said they ordered the plane to fly to Baghdad because Iraq rejects "U.S. hegemony," Haboush said.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the hijackers were armed or what other means they used to seize control of the aircraft. A hijacker had at one point threatened to blow up the plane unless it was allowed to fly to Baghdad, Saudi officials said on condition of anonymity.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq have had no diplomatic relations since Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in 1990.

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