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The BBC's Simon Wilson
"The hijacker is being sent back to Russia"
 real 56k

The BBC's Chris Morris in Jerusalem
"Drama, in the end, turned into farce"
 real 56k

Monday, 13 November, 2000, 02:50 GMT
Israel hijack ends peacefully
Hijacked plane
The aircraft was searched for possible booby-traps
A gunman who hijacked a Russian airliner and forced it to fly to Israel has been returned to Russia, after he released unharmed all 58 passengers and crew.

The lone hijacker, who the Israeli army described as an "unbalanced" man in his 20s from the Russian Caucasus, was flown to Moscow on a Russian government plane on Sunday evening.

The passengers and crew were flown to Moscow, their original destination, on board a second plane.

Passengers Avsalutin Rashidov and his son Arsen after being released
Passengers show their relief after being freed
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had turned back while en route to Washington, but continued to the US capital once it was clear that the hijacking was over.

The hijacker surrendered shortly after the airliner touched down at dawn on Sunday at the Uvda military base in Israel's southern Negev desert.

Israeli Chief of Staff General Shaul Mofaz said the gunman, who had a fake bomb strapped around his waist.

A Russian embassy official said the hijacker gave Israeli officials two letters and a video tape.

One letter was addressed to the "white world" and the other to the "emperor of Japan" and complained of "yellow people trying to take over the white race".

Earlier reports spoke of at least two, and possibly four, hijackers armed with an automatic rifle and an explosive device.

The Israeli military did confiscate four pistols and an automatic rifle from the aircraft - but the weapons belonged to the plane's crew and security staff, an army spokesman said.

Bomb threat

The Dagestan Airlines plane was seized on an internal flight from Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan in the Russian Caucasus, to Moscow, and forced to divert to Israel.

Many of the passengers had been travelling to Moscow to support a Dagestani team in a football there.


One of the hijackers together with the bombs is in the cabin... They promise to blow up the plane

Dagestan Airlines pilot
After the Tu-154 was seized at 2350 Moscow time (2050GMT) on Saturday, the pilot decided to land and refuel at the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

"They [the hijackers] told us to refuel the plane and no questions. They threatened to blow up the plane," said an Azerbaijan Airlines official.

The plane took off again at 0245 Moscow time on Sunday (2345 GMT Saturday), before the arrival of a Russian negotiating team sent from Moscow.

Conversations monitored between the pilot and the control tower at Ben-Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv revealed that the plane only had enough fuel for "slightly more than an hour" in the air.


"We are counting on you," the pilot added, speaking in Russian to Ben-Gurion's control tower.

"One of the hijackers together with the bombs is in the cabin. I do not know how many of them are in the passenger cabin. They demanded to land in Baku and then only in Tel Aviv. They refuse to fly anywhere else and promise to blow up the plane," the pilot said.

Radicals

Dagestan is a Muslim region bordering Russia's rebel territory of Chechnya, and has similar separatist ambitions.

It was the scene of heavy fighting last year between Russian forces and Islamic radicals, reminiscent of the prolonged conflict in Chechnya.

Initially, Israeli officials were concerned that the plane had been hijacked by Islamic militants, who were demonstrating support for the Palestinians in the current conflict with the Israeli security forces.

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17 Mar 00 | Europe
The Dagestan connection
30 Sep 99 | Europe
Islamic roots in Dagestan
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