PARIS (Jan. 19)
Two armed terrorists were still holding an unidentified couple and their four-year-old child hostage in an Orly Airport terminal building lavatory late tonight after an unsuccessful machinegun and grenade attack on a departing El Al jet at 3:30 p.m. local time this afternoon.
About 20 persons were wounded by bullets and flying glass during an exchange of fire between airport police and the terrorists before the latter seized the hostages and barricaded themselves in the lavatory. One of the wounded was a policeman. Most of the others were visitors who were at the airport to see off passengers on the El Al Boeing 707 which was departing for Tel Aviv.
An El Al spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that none of the passengers was hurt and the plane was not damaged. The airport has been closed to all traffic and the terminal building is surrounded and occupied by hundreds of French riot police.
French Interior Minister Michel Poniatovsky who arrived in the scene to inspect the police operation was reportedly participating in negotiations with the terrorists. They were said to have demanded a Boeing 727 to fly them to an unspecified Arab country in exchange for the hostages and to have set a deadline of 4:30 a.m. Monday (local time) which is 10 p.m. Sunday, New York time.
ACCOUNT OF ATTACK
Anonymous telephone calls to French news media ascribed the attack to the Mohammed Boudia Commando, the same gang of Arab terrorists who claimed credit for last Monday’s unsuccessful bazooka attack on a departing El Al plane at Orly Airport. A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization denied all responsibility for today’s attack and claimed it was the work of “elements who want to spoil the understanding between the French and the Palestinian peoples.”
Hundreds of people at the airport witnessed the attack from the terrace where visitors watch departing flights. They saw two men open machinegun fire and hurl hand grenades at the plane, all of which missed their target. The spectators fell on their stomachs as police stationed nearby opened fire on the attackers.
According to one report, a simultaneous attack was carried out against the El Al ticket office inside the terminal building by two other men. The report was unconfirmed. An El Al 747 jumbo jet preparing to take off for New York was parked near the scene of the attack but apparently was not a target.
According to French radio reports this evening, the senior police officer in charge of the operation. Paris Police Chief Pierre Ottavioli, was considering piping sleeping gas into the lavatory and to have his men rush the barricade when the gas took affect. At last reports the airport was deserted except for hundreds of police wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying weapons and gas throwers. The terminal building was illuminated by banks of spotlights and police sharpshooters were stationed on rooftops.