Hijacker’s bomb was fake

The Washington Post

UVDA AIR FORCE BASE, Israel — A bizarre hijacking and hostage drama ended peacefully in southern Israel’s Negev Desert on Sunday when a man with a fake bomb strapped to his body surrendered after seizing a domestic Russian flight with 57 passengers and crew on board and forcing it to fly to the Jewish state.

By the end of the day, relieved Israeli army officers were calling the incident "a weird story." But for several hours Sunday morning it seemed serious enough that Prime Minister Ehud Barak, on his way to Washington to meet President Clinton, turned his plane around and headed back to Israel to manage the crisis.

When the hijacker gave himself up a couple of hours later, Barak ordered his plane to turn around again, and resumed his flight to Washington.

Early reports suggested there were as many as four Chechen hijackers on board the Vnukova Airlines’ Moscow-bound flight from the southern Russian region of Dagestan, which borders breakaway Chechnya to the east.

In fact, the lone hijacker was a Dagestani identified as Amarchenov Avmerchan, a man in his late 20s or early 30s who mentioned nothing about the Palestinians.

The hijacker, insisting he had a bomb, seized the plane Saturday night shortly after takeoff from the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala. The plane flew to Baku, Azerbaijan, where it refueled before taking off for Israel.

Heeding the pilot’s pleas, Israel allowed the jet to set down at Uvda air force base near the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Israeli ambulances and commandos rushed to the scene in anticipation of a hostage rescue scenario.

But Avmerchan surrendered almost immediately, following cursory negotiations with the Israelis. The "bomb" he had strapped around his waist turned out to be an instrument for measuring blood pressure, covered by a bandage.

He told Israeli authorities that he had been sent by his father to transmit a message "to the world and the emperor of Japan," according to Israeli army Maj. Gen. Yom Tov Samia. The message, contained in a videotape and two letters, "warned the world about the yellow race taking control of the white race," Samia said.

Israeli authorities denied Avmerchan’s demand to hold a news conference and handed him over to the Russians for extradition to Moscow.

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