Air France Flight 8969

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Air France Flight 8969
Airbus A300B2-1C, Air France AN1091113.jpg
F-GBEC, the aircraft involved in the hijacking,
seen in 1982
Hijacking
Date 24–26 December 1994
Summary Hijacking
Site 24–25 December: Houari Boumediene Airport, Algiers, Algeria
26 December: Marseille Provence Airport, Marseille, France
43°26′23″N 5°12′54″E / 43.43972°N 5.21500°E / 43.43972; 5.21500Coordinates: 43°26′23″N 5°12′54″E / 43.43972°N 5.21500°E / 43.43972; 5.21500
Aircraft
Aircraft type Airbus A300B2-1C (c/n 104)
Operator Air France
Registration F-GBEC
Flight origin Houari Boumedienne Airport
Destination Paris–Orly Airport
Passengers 224 (including 4 hijackers)A
Crew 12
Fatalities 7 (3 passengers, 4 hijackers)
Injuries 25 (13 passengers, 3 crew, 9 GIGN)
Survivors 229 A

Air France Flight 8969 was an Air France flight that was hijacked on 24 December 1994 by the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria (GIA) at Houari Boumediene Airport, Algiers, Algeria. The terrorists murdered three passengers and their intention was to blow up the plane over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When the aircraft reached Marseille, the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN), a counter-terror unit of the French National Gendarmerie, stormed the plane and killed all four hijackers.[1][2]

Background[edit]

Algeria was in a state of civil war at the time of the hijacking. Aircraft flying to Algiers faced the possibility of missile attacks. As a result, Air France's flights to Algiers had crews entirely made of people who volunteered for the route. Air France had asked government officials if it absolutely had to continue flying to Algeria; as of the time of the hijacking, but they never gave Air France a reply. Bernard Delhemme was the captain of the flight.[3] Jean-Paul Borderie was the copilot, and Alain Bossuat was the flight engineer.[1] The Airbus A300B2-1C, tail number F-GBEC, had first flown on 28 February 1980.[4]

Hijacking[edit]

24 December[edit]

On 24 December 1994, at Houari Boumedienne Airport in Algiers, four armed men boarded Air France Flight 8969 which was due to depart for Orly Airport, Paris at 11:15 am.[3] The men were dressed as Algerian presidential police; they wore blue uniforms with Air Algérie logos. Their presence originally did not cause any alarm.[1] Two of the men began inspecting the passengers' passports while one went into the cockpit and the fourth stood guard. Claude Burgniard, a flight attendant, recalled noticing that the "police" were armed and one of them had dynamite showing, which she considered to be unusual as the Algerian police were not normally armed when carrying out checks. The Algerian military felt suspicious on noticing that the Air France flight appeared to have an unauthorised delay, so they began surrounding the aircraft. Zahida Kakachi, a passenger, recalled seeing members of the Special Intervention Group (GIS), known as "ninjas," outside the aircraft. Kakachi recalled hearing one of the "police" say "taghut," an Arabic word for "infidel", upon seeing the GIS men gathering outside the A300; she then realised that the four men on board the plane were terrorists. The four hijackers then revealed that they were not police, but mujahideen seeking to establish an Islamic state in Algeria. They had hijacked the aircraft because the national airline Air France was a symbol of France, which they viewed as infidel foreign invaders.[3]

The leader, Abdul Abdullah Yahia, already a notorious murderer, and the other three members of the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, or GIA) brandished firearms and explosives and announced their allegiance to the GIA, demanding co-operation from the 220 passengers and 12 flight crew.[3] The hijackers had Kalashnikov assault rifles, Uzi submachine guns, pistols, homemade hand grenades, and two 10-stick dynamite packs. Later, at one point during the flight, the men placed one pack of dynamite in the cockpit and one pack under a seat in the middle of the aircraft, then linked them with detonator wire.[1] They also took the uniforms of the pilots to confuse Algerian army snipers.[3]

Allah has chosen us to die and Allah has chosen you to die with us. Allah guarantees our success, Insha'Allah.

— Abdul Abdullah Yahia[3][5]

Burgniard recalled that the hijackers, in particular one called "Lotfi", disliked seeing a lack of adherence to their Islamic beliefs; according to Burgniard, the hijackers objected to men and women sitting together and sharing the same toilets and women having their heads uncovered. Once they had taken control of the aircraft, the hijackers forced the women to cover their heads, including the cabin crew members.[3] Women who did not have veils used aircraft blankets as head coverings. An elderly Algerian man told the TF1 network that the hijackers "had a kind of art in their terror. Twenty minutes of relaxation and twenty minutes of torture. You never knew what was next."[1]

The men stated over the aircraft's cockpit radio:

We are the Soldiers of Mercy. Allah has selected us as his soldiers. We are here to wage war in his name.

— Abdul Abdullah Yahia[6]

Abderrahmane Meziane Chérif, the Minister of the Interior of Algeria, came to the airport control tower to begin negotiating with the hijackers, who were using the captain to speak for them. They demanded the release of two Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) political party leaders, Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, who were under house arrest; the FIS was banned in Algeria in 1992. Chérif demanded that the hijackers begin releasing children and the elderly if they wanted to talk to the Algerian government.[1] The media began arriving at the airport to cover the crisis.[3]

At noon, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppé, organised a crisis team, and Charles Pasqua, Interior Minister of France, met his aides. French Prime Minister Édouard Balladur was recalled from his Christmas vacation in Chamonix, France, and other government officials were also summoned from their vacations.[1] Balladur recollected spending the entire afternoon on the telephone, trying to determine what was happening and feeling confused. According to Balladur, the Algerian authorities wanted to crack down on the terrorists and Balladur himself encountered difficulties discussing the events.[3] At one point, the hijackers dropped the demand for the release of the FIS party leaders.[1] Two hours into the hijacking, the men told the captain to depart for Paris so that they could hold a press conference there. The captain could not take off because the aircraft boarding stairs were still attached to the plane and the Algerian authorities were blocking the runway with parked vehicles. When the hijackers forced the captain to ask for the boarding stairs to be removed, the Algerian authorities refused, determined not to give in to any of the hijackers' demands. The GIA men announced that they would detonate the aircraft unless the Algerian authorities followed their orders.[3]

During the passport check, the hijackers had noticed that one of the passengers on the flight was an Algerian police officer. In order to force the Algerian government to comply with their demands, the hijackers approached the police officer and told him to follow them. Kakachi remembered that the police officer, seated two rows behind her, was hesitant as he did not know what they were going to do.[3] Several passengers recalled him pleading "Don't kill me, I have a wife and child!"[1] The hijackers shot the police officer in the head at the top of the boarding stairs. The pilots and most of the passengers were not aware at first that the man had been killed. Captain Delhemme recalled that his first contact with the passenger cabin during the hijacking was when a flight attendant, allowed into the cockpit, asked the pilots if they needed anything. According to Delhemme, he asked for a glass of water from the attendant to ease the pilots' parched throats. At this point, the attendant whispered to Delhemme that the hijackers had killed a passenger.[3]

The Algerian authorities still refused to agree to the hijackers' demands. Burgniard recalled that he and the other occupants began to realise that "things were going wrong" when the hijackers came to collect another passenger.[3] They selected 48-year-old Bui Giang To, a commercial attaché at the Embassy of Vietnam in Algeria.[1] Burgniard described To as "the real foreigner on this plane." She remembered that To was not intimidated by the hijackers and she believed that this attitude upset the hijackers. The Vietnamese diplomat thought he was about to be released because he was a foreigner; instead he was shot dead on the boarding stairs. Delhemme recalled that when the flight attendant next appeared with refreshments, she whispered to him that two passengers, not one, had died.[3]

The French government wanted to bring French military personnel into Algeria to safely resolve the hijacking, but the Algerian government would not allow foreign military to land on Algerian soil to resolve an Algerian political crisis. Prime Minister Balladur said that he asked the Algerian government "extremely forcefully and urgently" to give permission for the aircraft to take off. He felt that the French government held responsibility for solving the problem as the aircraft belonged to a French airline and almost a third of the passengers were French.[3]

Seven hours into the hijacking, the cabin was calm but tense; at that point, few of the passengers knew that two people had been killed. It had grown dark outside and the aircraft was surrounded by spotlights. The pilots now attempted to defuse the situation by talking to the hijackers and trying to gain their trust. Delhemme explained that the beginning of a hijacking is violent, so the role of the pilot is to keep the participants calm, "buy time", show the hijackers who the crew are as people, and find out details about the hijackers; then the pilot has to try gaining the trust of the hijackers.[3]

During the night, the French military authorised its forces to be sent to Majorca, Spain, which was as close to Algeria as was possible without being accused of interfering in the situation.[3] At 8 pm, Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) operatives boarded an Airbus A300 aircraft similar to F-GBEC, the hijacked plane, at a military base in France.[1] En route to Majorca, the GIGN operatives were able to familiarise themselves with the A300 in preparation for storming the aircraft.[3] After the GIGN's plane arrived at Palma de Mallorca Airport, the Algerian government made it clear that French forces were not welcome in Algeria.[1]

25 December[edit]

Captain Delhemme made a tour of the cabin at about 2 am the next morning to check on the situation; he said that the cabin was "calm" during that time. He noticed two of the hijackers asleep on the floor.[3] In the morning, French Prime Minister Édouard Balladur flew to Paris.[1]

New information arrived at the Consulate General of France in Oran, Algeria, via a mole in the GIA:

We received this information directly from members of the Algerian secret service. And this information was very worrying. The terrorists' true aim was to crash the plane in Paris.

Police confirmed this plan after a raid on a safe house.[7]

The hijackers released some of the passengers, mainly women with young children and those with severe medical conditions. Over 170 people still remained on board the plane. The hijackers offered to release the remaining Algerian passengers, but the Algerians refused to leave the aircraft. Delhemme recalled that one passenger who was refusing to leave said that he thought the crew would be killed if he did, and Delhemme believes that the passengers' motives were sincere.[3] By the end of 25 December, the hijackers had freed a total of 63 passengers.[1][8]

The Algerian police used night vision devices to identify the lead hijacker, who was Abdul Abdullah Yahia.[1] The French government sent Yahia's mother to plead for him to release the passengers, in the hope that she could persuade her son to give in,[1] but the tactic backfired. Passenger Kakachi recalled Yahia becoming enraged by this move. At this point the hijackers began targeting the French passengers; there were two staff members of the French Embassy in Algiers on board the flight, a secretary and a chef.[3] The hijackers forced the chef, Yannick Beugnet, to plead into the microphone. Through Beugnet, they demanded that unless the Algerian government cleared the A300 for takeoff before 9:30 pm, they would kill one passenger every 30 minutes, starting with Beugnet. They threatened to shoot him and throw him out of the door. The Algerian passengers assured him that the hijackers were bluffing while the French passengers were demanding that the aircraft be allowed to take off. When the 9:30 deadline passed, the hijackers shot the chef and threw his body outside.[1][9] The door open warning light in the cockpit indicated to the pilots that another passenger had been murdered. Enraged, Captain Delhemme yelled at the Algerian authorities "See what you get when you play tough?!"[3] The airline knew that the chef had been murdered as it was listening in on the conversations between the aircraft and the control tower. Philippe Legorjus, a former Air France security adviser, said in an interview that the airline employees "lived through [the event] with great emotion." Zahida Kakachi recalled Lotfi calmly trying to convert her and another stewardess to Islam, though Kakachi was only pretending so that she would not enrage him.[3]

The French government were informed of the events. Balladur spoke on the telephone to the Prime Minister of Algeria, Mokdad Sifi; he told him that the French government would hold the Algerian government responsible for the outcome if it did not authorise them to intervene in the situation.[1][3] Just before midnight, Balladur told the President of Algeria, Liamine Zéroual, that France was ready to receive the Air France flight.[1] As a result of Balladur's demands, 39 hours after the start of the hijacking, Zéroual allowed the aircraft to leave Algiers. Flight attendant Claude Burgniard recalled that everyone was relieved when the aircraft departed because they thought the crisis was over.

There was insufficient fuel on board the plane to reach Paris, because the auxiliary power unit had been running ever since the hijackers took over the plane, so a refuelling stop was scheduled at Marseille Provence Airport. Delhemme confronted Yahia to find out whether he planned to blow up the aircraft between Algiers and Marseille. Yahia insisted that the plane would fly to Marseille, take on fuel, then fly to Paris for the press conference; reassured, Delhemme prepared for takeoff. In an interview, Delhemme suggested that the hijackers would probably have said this anyway to prevent the crew from taking action against them. Burgniard recalled that the hijackers, in the cockpit, seemed excited and "like kids".[3]

26 December[edit]

The aircraft approached Marseille during the early hours of 26 December. The hijackers did not know that Major Denis Favier's GIGN squad was already in Marseille,[3] having flown from Majorca to a military base near Marseille, and planned to storm the aircraft while it was in Marseille. The GIGN squad practised entering the A300 before Flight 8969 arrived in Marseille.[1] Favier explained in an interview that the enemy was arriving in friendly territory, and the power difference would be a key element in the struggle.[3] The Flight 8969 aircraft landed at 3:33 am.[1]

Steward Claude Burgniard said that the hijackers felt that the landing in Marseille was a "magic moment" as they had arrived in France. Burgniard recalled that the airport was dark and that she only saw the lights of the A300 and a car that the A300 followed. The French authorities deliberately led the aircraft away from the terminal and into a remote corner of the airport. By 26 December, the French government had received information stating that the hijackers had planned to attack Paris. Favier planned to appear conciliatory and prolong the negotiations as long as possible. He believed that the hijackers were tired, so he planned to wear them down.[3] Alain Gehin, the Chief of Police of Marseille, spoke to the group of hijackers in the control tower. Gehin implemented Favier's strategy.[1]

While using Delhemme to speak for them,[1] the hijackers asked for 27 tonnes of fuel; the aircraft needed approximately 9 tonnes to fly to Paris from Marseille. The request indicated to the French authorities that the aircraft was going to be used as a firebomb or to fly the aircraft to an Islamic country sympathetic to the hijackers' cause. Hours later, the authorities received word of the firebomb plot. Passengers who were released in Algiers stated that the A300 had been rigged with explosives. Demolition experts determined that the plane was likely rigged in a way that would cause it to explode.[1] Charles Pasqua said in an interview that the French government had decided that the aircraft was not going to leave Marseille, regardless of the consequences.[3]

At around 8:00 am, the hijackers demanded that the forces let the aircraft take off by 9:40 am. The negotiators delayed the ultimatum by giving the aircraft additional food and water, emptying the toilet tanks, and providing vacuum cleaners. The GIGN operatives servicing the aircraft were disguised as regular airport personnel. They discovered the aircraft doors were not blocked or booby trapped.[1] The men planted eavesdropping devices while others trained long-range "cannon" microphones on the A300's fuselage and windows.[1][3] Favier's group asked the hijackers if they would rather do a press conference in Marseille instead of Paris, since all of the major press is in Marseille. The hijackers agreed to hold a press conference on the A300. The negotiators requested that the front of the aircraft would be cleared for the press conference. In fact, this was to create an area for the GIGN during the storming of the aircraft. Favier explained in an interview that the press conference was an important tactic as it allowed the passengers to be moved to the rear of the aircraft. The hijackers did not realise that the doors of the A300 could be opened from the outside.[3]

Twelve hours after the A300 arrived at Marseille, the GIGN knew how many hijackers were on board and their location on the aircraft with the help of eavesdropping devices, infrared vision equipment, and "cannon" microphones.[1][3] It intended to wait until sundown to take advantage of the darkness. The occupants of the aircraft were unaware of the GIGN's true motives, and the militants were confused about why the press had not yet arrived. Yahia, frustrated by the absence of the press and sensing the authorities were up to something, ordered the pilot to move the aircraft. Dellemme parked the aircraft at the foot of the airport control tower and in close proximity to the terminal and other aircraft. An explosion in this position would result in many more casualties than in the earlier, remote location.[3]

This was a tactical disadvantage for the GIGN; the positions were based on the aircraft being parked where the French authorities ordered the placement of the A300. When the aircraft moved, the GIGN had to quickly reorganise its forces. Favier placed snipers on the roof so they would have a view of the cockpit. He organised a group of thirty men with three passenger boarding stairs to rush the aircraft and take it over. Favier planned to have two teams, each with 11 people, open the rear left and rear right doors of the A300. A third team of eight would open the front right door. The forces planned to isolate the cockpit, with Yahia, from the rest of the aircraft.[3]

By 5 pm, the authorities had not delivered any amount of fuel to the A300. Yahia entered the cabin to choose a fourth person to kill. He selected the youngest member of the Air France crew, who had told the hijackers that he was an atheist. Yahia felt reluctant to kill a fourth passenger at that point, saying "I don't want to do this. But I have no choice.".[3] Burgniard stated in an interview that she did not know whether Yahia had decided not to execute the crew member; she knew that he kept delaying the execution. Instead, the hijackers opened the door and fired around the aircraft. Zahida Kakachi, a passenger, recalled that the hijackers began reciting verses from the Quran on the public address system. The verses were prayers for the dead. According to Kakachi, the passengers were silent and began to feel panicked. The hijackers knew the negotiators were in the control tower, so through the side window of the cockpit, they began to fire automatic machine guns towards the control tower. Philippe Legorjus, who at the time was the airline's security adviser, recalled that glass shattered all around the negotiators. Captain Delhemme said that throughout the time in Marseille, there had been tension, but "nothing like what seemed to be about to happen." French Prime Minister Édouard Balladur allowed Favier to take whatever actions he felt were necessary; after the hijackers fired at the control tower, Favier decided to begin the raid.[3]

Raid[edit]

Raid on Air France Flight 8969
Date26 December 1994
LocationMarseille, France
Result GIGN victory
Belligerents
France GIGN GIA
Commanders and leaders
France Major Denis Favier Abdul Abdullah Yahia 
Strength
30 GIGN Operators 4 hijackers
Casualties and losses
9 wounded 4 killed

3 passengers were already dead prior to the raid
13 passengers wounded

3 crew wounded

Once the hijackers noticed the airstairs moving towards them, they recognised the imminent assault. As the first airstair reached the front starboard (right) door, it became apparent that it was elevated too high on the door frame for a uniform entry into the aircraft. The GIGN had trained on an empty aircraft, in which the suspension system of the plane was not as compressed, leading to an overestimation of the necessary height of the airstairs.[citation needed] After a short delay in repositioning the airstairs, GIGN forces were able to enter. The hijackers returned fire, attacking the GIGN forces. One hijacker was killed instantly. Then, the two other units entered the rear of the aircraft. The participants fired hundreds of bullets.[3] The hijackers fired through the skin of the aircraft.[1] Grenades erupted and smoke went through the cabin.[3] The GIGN's concussion grenades temporarily blinded and deafened occupants, allowing the GIGN to storm the aircraft. One of the hijackers' homemade grenades detonated, causing limited damage.[1] The snipers on the tower could not get a clear shot into the aircraft as the copilot, Jean-Paul Borderie, blocked their view. Through a window, Borderie jumped out of the cockpit and staggered away. With the view unobstructed, the snipers began firing into the cockpit, while the GIGN evacuated passengers in the rear of the aircraft.[3]

Flight attendant Claude Burgniard described the firefight as "the apocalypse". Christophe Morin, a flight attendant, recalled that the GIGN ordered passengers and crew to get down as low as possible with their hands over their heads, hide, and then to not move. Morin described the situation as "violent". He recalled putting his overcoat over his head so he would not see the tracer bullets and other occurrences during the raid. Morin said that he tried to help a female passenger next to him escape, but she was too large and Morin was unable to move her, so the two held hands. Pilot Bernard Delhemme said that he was in "a rather bad spot", so he crouched and made himself "as small as possible." His mind made him believe that his body could stop bullets.[3]

A few minutes after the beginning of the assault, most of the passengers had escaped. At that point, three of the four hijackers were fatally shot. Delhemme recalled that the cockpit only had himself, the flight engineer, and the last hijacker. Delhemme said that the hijacker could have killed him and his colleagues out of spite, but instead did not. In an interview, Denis Favier explained that there likely was a mutual recognition and "respect" between the hijackers and the hostages. He believes the bonds between the hijackers and hostages helped save lives of passengers and crew in the conflict.[3]

News footage showed a GIGN man knocked down the front right airstair when a bullet struck his gun and detonated the cartridges. The remaining hijacker kept the GIGN at bay for 20 minutes, but he eventually ran out of ammunition and died from a gunshot wound. Meanwhile, the GIGN operatives were not sure which men were the hijackers and how many were still alive, so they considered all male passengers as potentially being hijackers.[3] The flight engineer, Alain Bossuat, radioed the tower stating that the hijackers were dead and that there were no more left.[1] This signaled to GIGN forces that a final clearing of the A300 could begin. Delhemme said that when the forces entered the aircraft, they ordered him to put his hands on his head. Delhemme said that, after the hijacking ordeal had run its course, he refused to leave with his hands on his head and be "punished like a child." Burgniard said that when she saw Bossuat handcuffed, the cabin crew told the forces to let him go as the individual was the flight engineer.[3] At 5:35 pm, Favier radioed to the tower that the incident was over; the incident unfolded in 54 hours.[1]

All of the hijackers died. The 166A remaining passengers and crew survived the 20-minute gun battle.[3] Of the 154A remaining passengers, 13 received minor injuries.[1][3] Nine of the 30 GIGN operatives received injuries; of them, one received serious wounds.[3] Three crew members received injuries.[1] Delhemme was struck by bullets in his right elbow and thigh.[3] Bossuat received minor injuries; the dead bodies of two hijackers had shielded Delhemme and Bossuat from gunfire. Borderie, the most seriously injured, fractured his elbow and thigh from the 5 metre (16 ft) drop.[1] Favier said that he determined that the operation was a success since none of the GIGN received fatal injuries. French Prime Minister Édouard Balladur said that the events unfolded "exceptionally well."[3]

Aftermath[edit]

As a result of the damage to the aircraft, the A300 was written off.[4] Several hours after the incident ended, the Armed Islamic Group, which had claimed responsibility for the event, killed four Roman Catholic priests in retaliation in Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria. Three of the priests were French, while one was Belgian.[1]

The crew of the A300 and the GIGN forces received high national honours. Charles Pasqua, then the Minister of the Interior, said that throughout the ordeal the crew "rose to the occasion."[3] Bernard Delhemme returned to flying and worked for Air France for nine years before retiring. Flight attendant Claude Burgniard said that she "kept seeing the faces" of the three passengers who had been executed; when she received her medal she realised that she had helped save 173 people; this allowed her to mourn and get over the incident. Burgniard said that she does not wear the medal, but that she felt like she deserved it. Burgniard, who also received a message of thanks from the airline, never again worked for Air France. Flight attendant Christophe Morin stopped working for Air France and began to work for a charitable organisation.[3]

A former militant group leader admitted that the men had planned to detonate the aircraft over the Eiffel Tower. The militant group never again attempted this plot. Pasqua said that if the militants crashed an aircraft on the Eiffel Tower or the Élysée Palace, they would have committed what they would believe to be "an extraordinary feat."[3]

Flights between Algiers and Paris are now Flights 1555, 1855, 2155, and 2455 (operating to Charles de Gaulle instead of Orly).[10] Flight number 8969 is now a codeshare flight number for Delta Air Lines flight number 1584 between Greater Rochester International Airport and Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.[11]

Passengers and crew[edit]

Most of the passengers were Algerians; 138 of the passengers were Algerian citizens.A A significant number of the passengers were French people leaving Algeria. Captain Bernard Delhemme said that the hijackers, who had extensively planned the operation, did not anticipate that most of the passengers would be Algerians.[3] The hijackers recited Quran verses and tried to reassure the Algerian passengers. Witness accounts said that they "terrorised" non-Algerians.[1]

Jean-Paul Borderie, the co-pilot was looking forward to spending Christmas with his family at their vineyard in Bordeaux. Zahida Kakachi was going to experience a Parisian Christmas; she had wanted to go to Midnight Mass to see what it was like. Christophe Morin was especially anxious to get home. A few months before (over the summer), his brother and sister had both died, so Morin had asked Air France if it was possible for him not to fly during the actual Christmas celebrations, but they had refused his request. He therefore went to work on the flight feeling very reluctant, because he had wanted to be with his parents and family.[12]

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Algeria 100 0 100
 France 75 12 87
 Germany 10 0 10
 Ireland 5 0 5
 Netherlands 3 0 3
 Norway 5 0 5
 United Kingdom 5 0 5
 United States 5 0 5
 Vietnam 1 0 1
Total 209 12 221

Hijackers[edit]

25-year-old Abdul Abdullah Yahia, also known as "The Emir," was a petty thief and greengrocer from the Bab El Oued neighbourhood of Algiers. The negotiators said that Yahia spoke "approximate" French and always ended his sentences in "Insha'Allah" ("God willing").[1] Several passengers said all but one of the hijackers had no beards and closely cropped hair. A woman said that the men "were polite and, correct" and that they "had the determined air of cold-blooded killers." Another passenger said the hijackers "seemed excited, very euphoric" and that they told the occupants that they would teach the French and the world a lesson and show what they were capable of doing.[1]

As the hijacking progressed, the passengers recognised the personalities of the hijackers. Claude Burgniard, a flight attendant, recalled that the crew and passengers gave nicknames to the hijackers "to make things simpler." Yahia, the leader, had given his name, so the passengers called him by that name. According to Burgniard, Lotfi had a "peculiar" character, "was always on a knife edge," and "the most fanatic" and "the most fundamentalist" of the hijackers. Therefore, he received the nickname "Madman" from the passengers. According to Burgniard, Lotfi was the hijacker who insisted that the passengers follow Islamic law. Lotfi found women having their heads uncovered "intolerable," making him very angry. One hijacker did not give his name to the passengers, so they called him "Bill." Burgniard stated that Bill was "a little bit simple" and "more of a goatherd than a terrorist." She said his role as a hijacker was "an error in casting." Burgniard remembered that the occupants wondered why Bill was there and that they saw Bill appearing as if he wondered why he was there, as well. The hijacker nicknamed "The Killer" shot the hostages whom the hijackers had targeted.[3]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The events of Flight 8969 were featured in "The Killing Machine", a Season 2 (2004) episode of the Canadian TV series Mayday[3] (called Air Emergency and Air Disasters in the U.S. and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and elsewhere around the world). The dramatisation was broadcast in the United States with the title "Hijack Rescue"; and with the title "Hijacked" in the United Kingdom, Australia and Asia. The captain of Flight 8969, Bernard Delhemme, still feeling under threat after the events, agreed to make his first ever television interview for Mayday provided he could appear in silhouette. Colonel Denis Favier, then a major who was head of the GIGN counter-terrorist unit assigned to the flight, also asked for his face to be obscured as members of the public believed that the militants were offering a reward for his assassination.
  • The incident was also featured in an episode of the Zero Hour television series called "Shoot-Out in Marseille".
  • A one-hour documentary, episode 3 of the UK BBC Two television series The Age of Terror, was transmitted on 29 April 2008. This showed an in-depth reconstruction of the hijacking, and included interviews with passengers, crew, GIGN commando, and government official eyewitnesses, including the co-pilot who jumped out of the cockpit window.[2] It was stated explicitly that a mole with the GIA terrorists informed the French, but not Algerian,[clarification needed] authorities that the intention was to use the aircraft as a missile to attack Paris.
  • A 2011 French film called L'Assaut was made with the collaboration and advice of the GIGN.
  • Flight attendant Christophe Morin and passenger Zahida Kakachi co-authored the book Le vol Alger-Marseille: Journal d'otages, recalling the events of the attack and how it had affected their lives.[13]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  • Note A: Sources differ on the number of passengers present. Tom Sancton of Time magazine stated that there were initially 227 passengers,[1] while Peter Taylor of the BBC reported that there were 220 passengers and 12 crew members on board.[14] Of those freed at the end of the assault, Sancton claimed that there were 173 passengers and crew, while Taylor's figures indicate 166 people (154 passengers and 12 crew). Both sources agreed that 63 Algerians were freed.[1][8] Aviation Safety Network indicates 163 remaining alive (170 occupants with 7 fatalities) at 17:00 on 26 December 1994.[4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an Sancton, Thomas (24 June 2001). "Anatomy of a Hijack". Time. Paris: AOL Time Warner. Archived from the original on 23 May 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Taylor (2008)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb "The Killing Machine". Mayday. Season 2. Episode 3. 2004. Discovery Channel Canada / National Geographic Channel. 
  4. ^ a b c "ASN Aircraft accident Airbus A300B2-1C F-GBEC Marseille–Marignane Airport (MRS)". Aviation Safety Network. 14 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015. 
  5. ^ Zero Hour: Shootout in Marseille
  6. ^ Taylor (2008), 1:25 and 2:20 minutes in.
  7. ^ a b Taylor (2008), 9 minutes in.
  8. ^ a b Taylor (2008), 6:25 minutes in.
  9. ^ Nundy, Julian (27 December 1994). "Jet hijackers die as 170 are freed". The Independent. Independent Print Limited. Retrieved 12 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Air France flights from Algiers to Charles De Gaulle, Paris.
  11. ^ AF8969 schedule. (Air France flight: Rochester -> Atlanta).
  12. ^ Age of Terror: The Paris Plot
  13. ^ Kakachi, Zahida; Morin, Christophe (5 October 2006). Le vol Alger-Marseille: Journal d'otages [The Algiers-Marseille Flight: Journal from the Hostages] (in French). Paris: Plon. ISBN 978-2259203753. 
  14. ^ Taylor (2008), 0:36 minutes in.

References[edit]

External links[edit]