PARIS (Jun. 29)
The gang that hijacked an Air France jet Sunday has demanded the release of 53 Palestinian or pro-Palestinian terrorists presently imprisoned in Israel, Europe and Kenya and has set a deadline of Thursday noon for compliance. They did not say what would be the fate of the 250 passengers and crew members of the seized aircraft that landed at Entebbe airport near Kampala, Uganda more than 24 hours ago if their demands were not met. The passenger list includes more than 80 Israelis and over 100 Jews of other nationalities.
(Israel has maintained official silence on the demands. Sources in Jerusalem said the situation was being studied.)
The hijackers’ list contains the names of 40 terrorists held in Israel, including Greek Catholic Archbishop Hilarion Capucci who was convicted two years ago of aiding Palestinian terrorists. It also names six terrorists imprisoned in West Germany, five in Kenya, one in France and one in Switzerland.
According to the latest reports, the hostages were permitted to leave the plane but are being held at gunpoint by the hijackers in a terminal building at Entebbe. The hijackers’ demands had been unknown until this morning when they were broadcast by Uganda radio.
DESCRIPTION OF HIJACKERS
The armed gang that seized the plane shortly after it left Athens airport Sunday on a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris reportedly consists of four men and a woman. This was confirmed in an interview published in the Israeli newspaper Maariv today with Patricia Heyman, a British subject, who was the only passenger released from the plane when it landed Sunday at Benghazi, Libya.
Heyman, who was freed when she complained of being ill, said from her parents’ home in Manchester today that the gang was headed by a Spanish-speaking man and included a blonde woman who spoke English with a German accent. The other three hijackers spoke Arabic among themselves, Heyman said. There was speculation here that the Spanish-speaking man may be an international terrorist known as Carlos who is wanted for murder and terrorist activities in several countries.
Heyman said the terrorists, armed with pistols and hand grenades, seized the plane five minutes after take-off from Athens. She said they announced, “We are Palestinians, we have taken over” but that there was no panic among the passengers.
GOVERNMENTS’ REACTIONS AWAITED
The main question here today is how the various governments involved will respond to the hijackers’ demands. Israel’s policy always has been never to give in to terrorists. But the Israelis did release a number of terrorists in July, 1968 after an El Al plane was hijacked over Italy and flown to Algeria. The other governments are expected to comply with the demands.
French Foreign Minister Jean Sauvagnargues said today that France “will be firm and will not give in to pressures.” But observers here believe that France not only will release the terrorists it holds but will urge Israel to do the same. A French government spokesman said today that the government had not yet seen the full text of the hijackers’ demands. President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who returned to Paris yesterday from an international economic conference in Puerto Rico, is reported to be personally handling negotiations with the hijackers. The French are represented at Entebbe by Pierre Renard, the Ambassador to Uganda, and by Ambassador Pierre Bonfous, another ranking diplomat who flew to Uganda yesterday.
SCENE AT ENTEBBE AIRPORT
Meanwhile, an airport official at Entebbe who was contacted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by telephone today described the atmosphere there as quiet. He said the hostages were “comfortable” and were served their first hot meal last night consisting of soup and curry with rice. They slept on benches and chairs in the terminal building and some slept on the floor, the official reported.
President Idi Amin of Uganda made two trips to the airport and chatted with the passengers. Sources in Entebbe said he appeared to single out Israelis whom he assured were his “friends and guests.” A Ugandan army doctor and a nurse were posted at the airport but their services apparently were not needed. An Air France Boeing 707 carrying a nurse is reportedly at Nairobi, Kenya today.
According to French sources, three hijackers are in the terminal building with the hostages and two have remained aboard the plane. Ugandan army units that ringed the airport are being kept 50 meters away from the terminal under threat by the hijackers to “blow up everything” if they come any closer.
Meanwhile, the Air France office here is under siege by relatives and friends of the hijacked passengers. The latter are believed to include, in addition to 83 Israelis about 35 French Jews and nearly 100 Jews holding Moroccan passports. Most of them live in Paris and were returning from a tour of Israel when the plane was seized.
(Reports from Tel Aviv today said the alert was lifted at Ben Gurion Airport last night when it became apparent that the hijacked plane would remain at Entebbe for the time being.)