Muslim Terrorist Hijackings

Figure 1.--The press caption is difficult to read, but was something like, "Taroin Raab, a six-year old Jewish boy from Trenton, N.J. who was among 280 persons hijacked to the Jordanian desert, dons aPaestinian guerrila beret and holds a machinegun after arrivng at a hotel in Aman, Jordan. The guerillas released the boy and other passangers from the three hijacked jets before destroying them. I think the photo was dated September 28., 1970.

The Palesinians after the Six Days War initiated a campaign of airline hijacking in the late-1960s. The tactic was developed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). They seized several planes in the late-1960s and 1970s. The tactic was adopted because hijackings made headlines and there was very little security at most airports. The first target was El Al, but when the Isreilis took security measures, the hijackers turned to Western airlines which did not adopt needed security measures. Lebanese Shi'a operatives adopted similar tactics in the 1980s. The hijackings became increasingly deadly as time progressed. The Palistinians eventually dropped airline hijacking as a tactic. Other Muslim groups have continued to use the tactic, most spectacularly with the 9-11 attacks on the United States. Hijacking proved to be a populr tactic for Islamic extremists. This was in part because Muslim countries unless they have oil have proven to be notably unsuccessful nations with endemic poverty. This has meantv they have been unable to generate substantial militry power and thus have had to resort to terrorist attacks in their campaigns against Israel and the West. The initial hijackings were done by people with left-wing ideologies. Subsequent hijackings involve individuls motivated by Islamic fundmentalism of various hues and from different countries. Not all airline hijackings are conducted by Muslims, but a substantial proportion are. There are several reasons for this. Muslim countries, especially Arab countries, are for the most part failed countries. They can not provide decent lives for their people or develop states that can develop real armies, thus they have to resort to trror tactics. Second, many Muslims accept terror tactics as long as they are done in the name of Arab or other Middle Eastern nationalism and/or Islam. Three, festering anti-Semitism provide a population that tolerates the killing of Jews. Four, successful terror attacks geneates donations from oil-rich countries with populations of ardent Muslims. Five, various state actors including the Soviet Union and its Eastern European surrogates as well as different Arab states have supported these terror groups.


The Popular Front for the Libertion of Palestine (PFLP) was a left-wing nationalist group that organized after the devestaing Six Day War (December 1967). Dispairing of the possibility that the mainline Arab states could defeat Israel militarily, the PFLP adopted a strategy of terrorism abd sought a range of tactics that could be used effectively against Israel. One of the tactics adopted wasairline hijackings. The growth of international airline travel and lax security made intenational airliners easy targets that attracted intense publicity. The FFLP successfully gained a prisoner exchange with the Israeli Government following their hijacking of an Israeli El Al Flight (1968). El Al responded with a baggage check program making sure that every piece of luggage could be accounted for by a passenger and carefully monitoring passengers. As El Al proved a hard target, the PFLP and other Palistinian terrorists began targeting planes from mostly American and European airlines. The PFLP joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the main umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement. The PLO was committed to a strategy of armed struggle. The largest PLO group was al-Fatah led by Yasser Arafat, a nephew of the Grand Mufti. The PFLP became the second-largest faction in the PLO. The PFLP believed that to destroy Israel, it was necessary to overthrow conservative Arab states not fully committed to the armed struggle as well as to attack Western states supporting Israel. Ideologically they were commited to Marxist doctrine which in interesting because ann important faction in the Zionist movement were socialists. Ideologicallt th Palestinian struggle was seen as part of a larger revolution against colonialism and the capitalist west. As a result, the PLFP received support from both the Soviet Union (through Estern Europen client intelligence services) and China. The PFLP was active in the 1970, but lost influence in the 80s. The PLFP was associated with Carlos the Jackel, but eventually expelled him as a result of disagreements over ransome money (1975). The PFLP lost influence as the appeal of leftist ideology declined in the Middle East and Islamic fundamentalism began go take hold. The decline and eventual disolution of the Soviet Union cut an important line of support. Yasir Arafat established the Palestinian Authority and initiated an overtly more moderate policy which included the dropping of the airline hijacking tactics.

Lebanese Shi'a

Iran (1984)

Lebanese Shi'a hijackers seize Kuwait Airways Flight 221 (December 3, 1984). They diverted it to Tehran. Two American USAID officials are shot and dumped on the tarmac. The plane is taken by Iranian security forces who were desguised as custodial staff.

Lebanon (1985)

Lebanese Shi'a Amal hijackers seized Trans World Airlines Flight Flight 847 from Cairo to San Diego with en route stops in Athens, Rome, Boston, and Los Angeles. There were 153 people on the flight. Hijackers seized the flight shortly after the plane took off from Athens (June 14, 1985). The asociation of the hijackers has been questioned. It is commonly connected with Hezbollah, but Hezbollah denies any connection with the plot. The hijackers demanded the release of 700 Shi'ite Muslims from Israeli confinement. The passengers and crew were forced to endure an inter-continental ordeal. Dozens of terrified passengers were held hostage over the next 2 weeks The plane was diverted from its original destination of Rome, in airspace over Greece, to the Middle East and made its first stop, for several hours, at the Beirut International Airport in Lebanon, where 19 passengers were allowed to leave in exchange for fuel. At the time, Lebanon was in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, and Beirut was divided into sectors controlled by different Shia Amal militia and Hezbollah. That afternoon, the aircraft continued on across the Mediterranean to Algiers, where 20 passengers were released during a five-hour stop before heading back to Beirut that night. The hijackers threatened the passangers and beat some. They murdered American Navy diver Robert Stethem and dumped his lifeless body onto the tarmac. They separated the passengers with Jewish-sounding names, all Americans, from the other passangers. They were taken off the jet and held hostage in a Shia prison in Beirut. The hijackers threatened the passangers and beat some. They murdered American Navy diver Robert Stethem and dumped his lifeless body onto the tarmac. Nearly a dozen well-armed men joined the hijackers before the plane took off again for Algiers the following day (June 15). At algiers an additional 65 passengers and all five female cabin crew members were released. The hijackers reportedly wanted to fly to Tehran, but mysteriously returned to Beirut for a third time (June 16). here they remained, probably becvause they had support from Shi'ia militias in n the city. The incudent finally ended when the Isrealis freed 31 Lebanese prisoners.

Al Qaeda

Pakistan Kashmiri Militants



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Created: 9:52 PM 11/3/2008
Last updated: 3:18 AM 5/14/2019