The World: Terror and Triumph at Mogadishu

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Throughout the early evening, telephone lines to Europe were open, so the Lufthansa planes were on the air to Frankfurt only for radio checks. But these checks became more and more frequent as the hours passed: from every 30 minutes to 20, then ten and finally two. Shortly after midnight Frankfurt told the planes: "We have lost all telephone and telex connections. You are our only means of communication. Keep in touch."

During that period, the behavior of the hijackers became increasingly erratic and menacing as another deadline approached. At one point, they tied the hostages' hands behind their backs with stockings and doused them with the remaining liquor aboard, apparently to help fuel the flames if they set the plane afire. The terrorists later untied the hostages, after being told by a West German diplomat in the control tower that Bonn would release eleven prisoners and fly them to Mogadishu. Mahmud consulted his "committee" and agreed to put off the deadline once more, this time until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday. "It is seven hours' flying time from Germany," he told the passengers. "I will give them seven hours." He advised the tower: "Don't try any tricks. This will not be another Entebbe."

But it was. Forty minutes before the terrorists' final deadline, the G.S.G. 9 rescue operation began. While two of the terrorists were in the cockpit talking with the German diplomat in the control tower, 28 commandos—their faces blackened and bodies camouflaged—stealthily approached the hijacked plane. Suddenly, there was an explosion on the runway—a diversion, and a signal for the attack. Smashing the emergency exits and blowing open the main doors with special explosives, the rescuers lobbed their stun grenades into the cabin. "Hinlegen! Hinlegen!" (Lie down! Lie down!) they shouted as they streamed aboard.

From Wischnewski's plane 500 yards away, his pilot described the scene to Frankfurt in a running narrative. "This is Oscar X Ray. I can see the doors of the plane are open and the guys are entering the plane." Frankfurt headquarters: "O.K., go ahead."

In Tel Aviv, Ham Operator Gurdus sat huddled before his set.* In Bonn, a member of Schmidt's crisis group recalled later, "You could have heard a speck of dust move."

"The emergency doors are open now, and I can see six, seven, eight hostages rushing from the plane ... They are running toward the control tower ... Thirty-five, thirty-six hostages are out. Cars are picking them up ... More hostages. The guys have control of the plane. The doors are closed. It is over. The operation is over."

Frankfurt said calmly: "The Chancellor would like to know how many casualties there are."

"Please wait. Will come with the number." Minutes later: "Frankfurt, here is Oscar X Ray. Three terrorists killed, one badly wounded." Mahmud and two others had been killed outright; the fourth, a woman, suffered a thigh wound and was taken to a Mogadishu hospital. One commando, one stewardess and four passengers were slightly injured. Except for the murdered Captain Schumann, all the hostages survived.

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