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Behind the Headlines the Failure of Nerve

September 7, 1976
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The latest incident of air piracy fizzled over the weekend when three Palestinian terrorists who hijacked a Dutch airliner had second thoughts and decided to save their own skins rather than risk becoming martyrs to the Palestinian cause. As the world learned to its great relief last night, the KLM DC-9 that had been hopscotching around the Mediterranean all day, finally put down at Lanarca Cyprus and all 80 persons aboard were freed unharmed. (See separate story p. 2)

The gunmen who had seized the plane after it took off from Nice on a flight from Malaga to Amsterdam, were more nervous than their captives, the released hostages reported. Their courage failed almost from the start of the incident. For one thing, Israel adamantly refused to have any contact with them. Their radio messages demanding the release of terrorists imprisoned in Israel went unacknowledged.

A flight of Israeli Phantom jets appeared when the hijacked plane was 100 miles off the Israeli coast. The Phantoms merely maneuvered around the airliner but the threat was clear should the hijackers have attempted to enter Israel’s air space. According to messages radioed by the Captain of the Dutch plane, the terrorists almost panicked at the sight of the Israeli interceptors. Dutch Premier Joop Den Uyl, fearing that panic could result in tragedy, placed an urgent phone call to Israeli Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, whereupon the Phantoms were called off. But the hijackers had enough and ordered the KLM jet to return to Larnaca where it had landed earlier to refuel.


Fresh recollections of what happened at Entebbe airport last July 3 doubtlessly entered the minds of the terrorists. They had remained at Larnaca only long enough to refuel, fearing an Israeli commando raid, although as far as is known, there were no Israeli citizens aboard the Dutch plane.

Another factor that contributed to the terrorists’ failure was the refusal of any Arab state to admit them. Immediately after the hijacking, the KLM plane landed at Tunisia to refuel. The Tunisian authorities gave them five hours to take on fuel and repair damage sustained in the landing but made it clear that the hijackers and their hostages would not be permitted to remain on Tunisian soil.

The terrorists reportedly told the Tunisians their destination was Damascus. But apparently they received a firm “no” from the Syrian authorities and from several other Arab capitals to which they appealed for landing permission. This embittered as well as frightened the hijackers. One of them reportedly told the Greek Cypriot authorities later. “They (their Arab brethren) let us down. They desert us. They hate us.”

Perhaps this incident spells the end, for a time at least, of the plague of aerial hijacking. If so, it proves Israel’s contention all along that firm resolution against any dealings with terrorists and the refusal by any nation to grant them haven is the only remedy against air piracy.

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