LONDON (Jul. 22)
Six Arab terrorist passengers, armed with hand grenades and machine guns, seized a Greek jet airliner at the Athens Airport when It landed on a flight from Beirut this morning and threatened to blow it up with the passengers and crew members aboard if the Greek government did not release seven Jordanian prisoners who were involved in attacks on El Al airliners in 1968 and 1969. The 53 passengers on the Olympic Airways Boeing 727 were released unharmed several hours later but the terrorists held five crew members and an International Red Cross representative hostages and forced them to fly the airliner to Cairo. An airport official reported that the terrorists said they would await word in Cairo from the Greek government as to its decision on the release of the seven imprisoned terrorists. The seven terrorists, who are being detained in Athens, include two who are awaiting trial on manslaughter charges following the bomb attack on the Athens office of El Al last November in which a two-year-old Greek boy died and fourteen other people were injured. The other five Arabs include two who were sentenced to prison terms in March for an attack on an El Al plane in December 1968 and three others sentenced to light prison terms for trying to carry weapons and explosives aboard a plane in December 1969. The two awaiting trial are due to be tried on Friday.
(In Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency it does not regard the hijacking as an Israeli concern, has not had official contacts with Athens on the matter and would not initiate such contacts. Many Israelis have been expecting such an incident for some time, especially in view of the numerous hijackings to Cuba. But the government can do no more than advise other countries on security precautions, convinced that an incident like that in Athens today could not happen with an Israeli airliner. A random poll by the JTA showed that Israelis were concerned about this latest terrorist episode, since the release of the Jordanians could mean a surrender to terrorist blackmail that could snowball into routine policy. The general reaction by those interviewed by the JTA was “If an Arab terrorist knows that even in the case of his capture his fellow terrorists will secure his release before long, the element of risk is removed and he can go on his terror mission with more confidence than a soldier going into battle at the front. Hijackings would grow in frequency to an intolerable extent and make air travel a doubtful proposition unless every airline follows the Israeli example of keeping guards on board every single plane.” Not counting today’s terror attack against the Greek plane, there have so far been 11 attacks against Israeli or other aircraft on their way to Israel or offices of the El Al Aviation Company. Foreign Minister Abba Eban stated today in the Knesset. Three attempted attacks were foiled. The total number of casualties was 51 dead and 16 injured.)