Aircraft hijacking

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Until September 11, 2001 an aircraft hijacking meant the take-over of an aircraft by a (usually) armed group with the intention of using its passengers as hostages to advance their interests.

Normal hijackings follow a pattern of negotiations between the hijackers and the authorities, followed by some form of settlement (not always the meeting of the hijackers' demands) or the storming of the aircraft by armed police or special forces to rescue the hostages.

The first recorded aircraft hijack was on February 21 1931 in Arequipa, Peru. Byron Rickards flying a Ford Tri-motor was approached on the ground by armed revolutionaries. He refused to fly them anywhere and after a ten day stand-off Rickards was informed that the revolution was successful and he could go in return for giving one of their number a lift to Lima. Most hijacking have not been so farcical. The first hijack of an airliner probably happened on July 16, 1948 when a failed attempt to gain control of a Cathay Pacific causes it to crash into the sea off Macao.

Other significant hijackings include:

1968: The first Arab-Israeli hijacking as three members of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijack an El Al plane to Rome. Diverting to Algiers the negotiations extend over forty days. Both the hijackers and the hostages go free. This was the first and the only successful hijacking of an El Al flight.

1970: PFLP gunmen attempt to hijack four aircraft simultaneously. They succeed on three and force the planes to fly to the Jordanian desert, where the hijackers blow up the aircraft after releasing most of the hostages. The final hostages are freed in exchange for seven Palestinian prisoners.

1976: The Palestinian hijack of an Air France airliner is brought to an end at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, when Israeli commandos assault the building holding the hijackers and hostages; they kill all the Palestinian hijackers and free 105 mostly Israeli hostages; three passengers and one commando are killed.

1977: A Palestinian hijack of a Lufthansa airliner in Mogadishu is ended when German commandoes storm the plane. Three hijackers are killed and 86 hostages are freed.

1978: Two Arab guerrillas seized a plane in Cyprus. Egyptian commandos flew in uninvited to try to take the plane. Cypriot troops resisted and 15 Egyptians died in a 45-minute battle.

1981: A Pakistan International Airlines jet is hijacked and taken to Kabul, where one passenger is killed before the plane flies on to Damascus; the hostages are finally released after 13 days when the Pakistani Government agrees to free fifty political prisoners.

1982: Palestinians take a EgyptAir plane and fly it to Malta. Fifty-nine people die when Egyptian commandos storm the aircraft.

1984: Lebanese Shi'a gunmen hijack a Kuwait Airways flight to Tehran. The plane is taken by Iranian security forces

1985: Lebanese Shi'a gunmen divert a TWA flight from Athens to Beirut with 153 people on board. The stand-off ends after Israel frees 31 Lebanese prisoners.

1986: Twenty-two people are killed when Pakistani security forces storm a Pan Am flight at Karachi, carrying 400 passengers and crew after a 16-hour siege.

1990: Hijackers seized a Chinese plane which later crashes as it tried to land in Canton killing 128 people.

1994: Four Islamic GIA terrorists seize a Air France plane in Algiers. It is flown to Marseilles where French commandos storm the plane, killing the hijackers. The 170 passengers survive.

1996: An Ethiopian airlines plane crashed into the Indian Ocean after hijackers force a crash landing. 125 passengers die and 50 survive.

1999: Kashmiri militants hijack an Indian Airlines aircraft and divert it to Kandahar. After a week-long stand-off India agrees to release three jailed Kashmiri militants in exchange for the hostages.

Since 1947, 60% of hijackings have been refugee escapes. In 1968-69 there was a massive rise in the number of hijacking. In 1969 there were 82 recorded hijack attempts worldwide, more than twice the total attempts for the whole period 1947-67. most were Palestinians using hijacks as a political weapon to publicise their cause and to force the Israel government to releasing Palestinian prisoners from jall.

Airliner hijackings have declined since the peak of 385 incidents between 1967-76. In 1977-86 the total had dropped to 300 incidents and in 1987-96 this figure was reduced to 212.