THE NETHERLANDS: Mission: Possible

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At a Saturday-night Mass in the Scheveningen maximum-security prison in The Netherlands, four prisoners interrupted the singing of the hymns. Brandishing two pistols and several spring knives that they had smuggled in, they took captive the choir and members of their families, the organist, a priest and two unarmed guards—22 people in all.

What followed was a suspense story with enough tension, surprise and heroism to make a palpable TV hit. One of the rebellious prisoners, for instance, was Adnan Ahmed Nuri, a Palestinian terrorist who was serving five years for hijacking and burning a British Airways VC-10 last March. Actually, the instigators were two Dutch criminals who were doing time for robbery. The fourth prisoner, an Algerian also convicted of robbery, appeared to be simply tagging along. With the Palestinian as front man, the quartet demanded, as the price for their hostages, a plane that would carry them to any Arab country and the release of another Palestinian in the prison hospital.

Dutch police, who had given in to similar demands by Japanese terrorists last September, this time refused to buckle and quietly drew up plans of their own. They got together a team of four psychologists and two psychiatrists, who gave them round-the-clock advice on how they should deal with the emotionally unstable prisoners. It was the team's idea to give in to all the minor demands of the convicts and stall on all the major ones, waiting for them to wear out under the strain. When the convicts least expected it, the psychologists advised, the police should do something to create maximum confusion—and then burst through the doors.

Magnesium Grenades. That was all the help the police needed, and at 4 a.m. last Thursday, 104 hours after the mini-revolt began, they acted. Magnesium grenades were thrown through the chapel windows, temporarily stunning and blinding everyone inside. The outer doors were quietly unlocked, and the lock on the inner door was cut with acetylene torches, a process that took only ten seconds. Fifteen marines burst through, disarming the convicts before they could fire a shot.

The final act of the four-day drama took only 15 minutes. The hostages were all in good health and cheerily waved at newsmen as they were driven away, eager, no doubt, to forget the whole thing—at least until they see it re-enacted on the home screen.