TEL AVIV (Jun. 27)
Eighty-three Israeli citizens, including a two-year-old child, were among the 229 passengers of a Tel Aviv-to-Paris Air France plane which was hijacked by six Palestinian terrorists today shortly after it left Athens. The plane landed at Benghazi Airport in Libya where late today the terrorists reportedly still had not made their demands known
It was also not known which terrorist group had committed the hijacking although an unconfirmed report said that an organization calling itself the Radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Damascus had claimed responsibility. Some Israelis said the hijacking of the French airbus may have been in retaliation for the cordial reception given to Syrian President Hafez Assad in Paris last week.
Ben Gurion Airport was placed on special alert, as is routine when an airplane hijacking occurs anywhere in the region, but planes continued arriving and leaving on schedule. A special command post was set up at the airport to handle details.
WILL TAKE NECESSARY MEASURES
Transportation Minister Gad Yaacobi left a Cabinet meeting to tell reporters that the government had been in contact with the French Embassy here and that the French government and Air France are fully aware that it is their responsibility that the plane and its occupants are returned safely. The Cabinet was informed of the hijacking during its regular weekly meeting. Premier Yitzhak Rabin. Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Yigal Allon later met for an hour in a special meeting to discuss the situation. No details were given.
Yaacobi said that Israel will take all necessary measures “both politically and in other spheres” to protect the 83 Israelis aboard the hijacked airbus. “The Israeli government is very sensitive to this question (of hijacking) and will take all the action felt necessary,” he said. Yaacobi later cabled the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal demanding immediate steps be taken to free the passengers. He said hijacking was the “most serious crime in civil aviation.
Relatives of passengers aboard the plane, who had heard of the hijacking, many of them crying, flocked to the office of Air France in Tel Aviv seeking information. El Al called relatives of the passengers to inform them of the hijacking. Israelis reacted with anger and distress to the news that so many of their countrymen were aboard the airbus. Israel radio said other passengers on the plane included nine Americans, three Canadians, 15 Frenchmen, 10 Greeks, and several other nationalities.
STRICTER SECURITY DEMANDED
(Israeli Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, who addressed the annual plenary session of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council in Louisville, Ky., this afternoon, commented on the hijack at a press conference afterwards. He said what was needed was stricter security by airlines and at all airports similar to the security measures in Tel Aviv “until this terrorist mania, is ended.” He also said that when hijackers were caught they should be punished, not pardoned. He said U.S. security measures were good as evidenced by the diminished incidents of hijacking in this country.
(The delegates attending the JCR sessions first learned of the latest hijacking from Dinitz. He announced what had taken place before beginning his speech. He observed that “unfortunately. Air France has not been particularly careful” because the French think “they are immune” to Arab terrorist attacks. “We have had many discussions with them about it.” Dinitz said.)
NOT BODY SEARCH IN ATHENS
The French airbus, a wide-bodied, twin engine jet with a short-to-medium range, took off from Ben Gurion Airport at 8:15 a.m. (2:15 a.m. EDT) and landed at Athens. At Athens about 30 persons left the plane and about 56 boarded it, mostly people from Arab countries. It was learned that while the airbus was there, an inspection of luggage was made but no body searches were conducted in Athens.
Radio contact with the plane was lost about 15 minutes after it left Athens. Neither the pilot nor any of the crew used the special signal installed in every plane to report a hijacking. Nicosia Airport in Cyprus spotted the plane on its radar heading for Libya and it was reported that the plane landed at Benghazi at 3:15 p.m. (9:15 a.m. EDT). There has been no radio contact with the plane by late today. A report from Paris said Libyan officials were negotiating with the six terrorists, but had not been allowed aboard. Food and water had been delivered to the plane.
Shortly after the hijacking was reported a suspicious suitcase was detected at the Air France counter where passengers were leaving for a flight to the Far East. The public was asked to leave the terminal immediately as security men searched the suitcase and the Air France counter area. The suitcase turned out to be harmless.