TERRORISM: The Skyjackers Strike Again

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Air Traffic Controller Jan de Haas stared grimly at his radar screen in the tower at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport: something was terribly wrong with Japan Air Lines Flight 404, which had just taken off for Anchorage en route to Tokyo. Alerted by a secret coded signal from the 747's pilot, De Haas was sure that a skyjacking was in progress.

Then came confirmation: "Amsterdam Control, we are in full command of Flight 404. I am El Kassar. From now on, the following call sign should be used: Mount Carmel. We are the occupying forces of the Palestinian Liberation Movement. We are fighting for our sons and brothers in the prisons of the fascist state of Israel. Is that clear to you, Amsterdam Control?" Replied De Haas very calmly: "Roger, Mount Carmel, Roger."

With those words, the first Palestinian skyjack of 1973 was under way. The jumbo jet's 123 passengers—all but nine of them Japanese—and 22 crew members were the captives of a terrorist team that evidently included both Palestinians and members of the fanatical Japanese leftist group called Rengo Sekigun (Red Army), which last year staged a massacre at Tel Aviv's Lod Airport that cost 26 lives. Astonishingly, Amsterdam airport authorities had been tipped off beforehand by the Israeli secret service that a skyjacking attempt might be imminent, but they took no special precautions. "We do spot checks sometimes," said an airport policeman, "but not on these northbound flights."

Aboard the big jet, terror struck swiftly. As the guerrillas prepared to take control of the plane, a grenade exploded in the hand of a woman member of the gang. She died in the blast.

JAL Chief Purser Nobuhisa Miyashita, 37, busy serving champagne to passengers, was wounded. As the jet streaked south and east over The Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland and Italy, the high-pitched, Arabic-accented voice of El Kassar (a pseudonym) came on the air again and again, sometimes describing the terrorists as belonging to the Japanese Red Army, sometimes as Palestinian commandos. (In Beirut, spokesmen for the Palestinian guerrilla organization Al-Fatah denied that its members were involved.)

No Progress. As the plane neared the Middle East, new problems began to appear. After Beirut and Damascus airports refused landing permission (probably in fear of later Israeli reprisals), the 747 flew on to the Iraqi city of Basra, near the head of the Persian Gulf. The terrorists might well have received a warm reception at the hands of the Israeli-hating Iraqis, but Basra's airport was too small to allow the jumbo jet to land. Finally, the plane landed at Dubai, one of seven tiny states that make up the United Arab Emirates, at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Dubai's airport, a handsome, recently built concoction of glass and concrete, is the newest and largest in the area.

Almost immediately, police and soldiers cordoned off the plane in the airport's cargo area. The terrorists allowed the wounded purser off the plane for medical treatment; the body of their dead companion was also unloaded.

Then the terrorists issued their first demand: "250 sandwiches and ice."

Talks were begun by Emirate Defense Minister Sheik Mohammed Bin Rashid, who was allowed on board the plane, but no progress was reported.

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