Hijackers order Saudi jet to Iraq, surrender to officials

Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Hijackers who commandeered a Saudi Boeing 777 and took it to Baghdad were arrested late Saturday, Iraqi state television reported, ending a daylong ordeal for more than 100 people on board.

The jetliner was on its way from Saudi Arabia to London when it was seized over the Mediterranean Sea and forced to fly around the Mideast for several hours before landing.

State television and airport officials said that the 7 1/2-hour crisis ended at 11:20 p.m. local time after high-ranking government officials negotiated with the two hijackers, who then surrendered peacefully.

The 103 passengers and crew members were reported safe. Officials said they were spending the night at a Baghdad hotel and were expected to leave Iraq toSday.

The two hijackers were later allowed to speak briefly with reporters. They praised Iraqi authorities and criticized their own government.

“We carried out the operation because we believe in the principles of justice and equality,” one said. The other said the Saudi people were against the presence of U.S. troops in their territory.

Earlier, Al-Jazeera satellite television showed the passengers descending a ramp from the plane.

“We are very grateful to the government of Iraq,” said a middle-aged man identifying himself only as a Pakistani.

Al-Jazeera, a Qatar-based station that broadcasts to the Middle East, also showed a few women, children and several other men descending the ramp surrounded by plainclothes security agents.

Speaking before the release, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official, Taher Haboush, said the hijackers had said they seized the plane because they were upset over an investigation into the Saudi human rights situation that was too favorable to the government.

The hijackers also said they ordered the plane to fly to Baghdad because Iraq rejects “U.S. hegemony,” Haboush said.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the hijackers were armed or what other means they used to seize control of the aircraft. A hijacker had at one point threatened to blow up the plane unless it was allowed to fly to Baghdad, Saudi officials said.

Word of the hijacking first emerged in Cairo, Egypt. Egyptian civil aviation officials said the pilot radioed them at 3:55 p.m. local time to say the plane had been commandeered and the hijackers were insisting that it fly to Damascus, the Syrian capital.

But the plane was denied permission to land as it neared that airport, air traffic controllers on the island of Cyprus said.

The hijackers then asked to fly through Syrian airspace to Iraq, the Cypriots said. Syria initially refused but later allowed the plane to pass, Damascus air traffic controllers said, and the plane flew on to Baghdad.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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