The Congo: Abduction in the Air

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The most troublesome enemy of Congo President Joseph Mobutu is Moise Tshombe, 47, the wily pro-Western politician who ran copper-rich Katanga as a secessionist state in the early 1960s, later served for 15 months as the Con o's Premier, and still commands wide support in the country. After Mobutu seized power in a bloodless army-backed coup 21 months ago, he forced Tshombe into permanent exile, later had him sentenced to death in absentia for high treason. Mobutu sees the hand of Tshombe in every disturbance in the Congo, is convinced that he is plotting a comeback.

Last week Tshombe sat in a shuttered police cell in Algiers, having been kidnaped on a private airplane over the Mediterranean and flown into Algeria. The Congolese government immediately asked Algeria to extradite him so that the sentence of execution could be carried out. Even in jail, however, Tshombe haunted Mobutu. Outraged by his abduction, Tshombe's followers in the eastern part of the Congo rose in revolt, seized two important towns and raised fears that the country might be plunged into another bloody civil war.

At Gunpoint. Tshombe's kidnaping was a bizarre episode. He had flown from Madrid, where he lives in exile, to Palma on the island of Majorca for a few days' rest, accompanied by two security agents assigned by the Franco government to protect him. Next day a sleek executive Hawker Siddeley 125 touched down in Palma on a flight from Geneva. On board were four passengers, including two whom Tshombe already knew. One was a Frenchman named Francis Bodenan, whom he had become acquainted with a few weeks earlier, the other a Belgian named Marcel Hambursin. The remaining passengers were a convicted Belgian swindler, Charles Sigal, and his wife Yvonne. Using the name of a fictitious firm for a cover, the four had chartered the plane from a London air-taxi company. They were real estate developers, they explained, and wanted to examine some sites in the Mediterranean on which to build new hotels.

By prearrangement, Tshombe, who sometimes dabbles in real estate, and his two guards climbed aboard in Palma for a 15-minute flight to the nearby isle of Iviza. There the group lunched at El Prenso restaurant on shrimp and broiled sea bass, looked over a possible building site on the coast, and then emplaned, supposedly for the return flight to Palma. The jet had barely completed the climb out from Iviza when Pilot David Taylor, 32, radioed to the Palma air-control center: "I am being forced at gunpoint by passengers to change route to Algeria." Less than an hour later, the plane put down at a military base outside Algiers. The passengers and pilots were immediately taken into custody by Algiers security.

"Black Judas." Who did it? An official Algerian government report fingered Bodenan, 42, who served ten years in a French prison on a murder conviction. According to the Algerian investigators, Bodenan drew a silencer-equipped automatic pistol, shot at (but apparently did not hit) the first passenger who moved, and singlehanded took over the plane. So far, there is no evidence the others were in on the plot. The motive was most likely money: anyone who succeeded in delivering Tshombe to Mobutu could count on becoming very rich.

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