The Last Time Four Planes Were Hijacked in a Day

As horrifying as last week’s attacks were, the hijacking of four airplanes on one day was not the unprecedented act it was made out to be by the press. In fact, it happened almost exactly 31 years ago.

On September 6, 1970, members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked three jets (Swissair, TWA and Pan Am ) with more than 400 passengers on flights to New York. A fourth plane, an El Al flight, was also targeted, but Israeli security agents foiled the hijacking in mid-air and killed one of the two terrorists when they tried to storm the cockpit. On the 9th, a British BOAC jet was also hijacked by the PFLP.

The UN could not muster a condemnation of the hijackings. A Security Council Resolution only went so far as to express grave concern, and did not even bring the issue to a vote.

This was in the days when ideological terrorism was more prominent than religious fanaticism and the hijackers were not interested in dying for the cause. Instead of flying their planes into buildings, they landed them on airfields (three in Jordan, one in Cairo). All four hijacked planes were blown up on the ground – after the passengers were taken off the planes — on September 12.

More than three dozen Americans were among the passengers who were then held hostage in Jordan as the terrorists attempted to blackmail the Western governments and Israel to swap the hostages for Palestinian terrorists held in their jails. On Sept. 14, after releasing all but 55 hostages, the terrorists said all American hostages would be treated as Israelis.

A tense standoff ensued. Seven terrorists were ultimately set free by Britain, Germany and Switzerland in exchange for the hostages. The turning point, however, was when King Hussein decided this was the final insult in the Palestinian campaign to take over his country and waged an all-out war against Yasser Arafat and all the PLO factions, ultimately driving them out of Jordan and into Lebanon.

After the hijackings, shocked congressman called for immediate and forceful action by the United States and international community. They insisted on quick adoption of measures aimed at preventing air piracy, punishing the perpetrators and recognizing the responsibility of nations that harbor them. Virtually nothing was done and hijackings and other terrorist atrocities have continued up to the present day.

The PFLP as an organization, and many of the individual participants responsible for those hijackings still are alive and well, supported by Syria, the Palestinian Authority and others. In fact, Leila Khaled, the person who tried to hijack the El Al jet, was going to be admitted into the territories to attend the Palestine National Council meetings in 1996, but she still refused to disavow terrorism. Today, she is said to live in Amman.

The Administration has created the entirely false impression that the terrorists, other than Osama bin Laden, are unknown and impossible to find. It’s simply not true. We know precisely where many of them live and train and who supports them. The perpetrators of the 1970 hijackings are among them. We will know if Bush is serious about a war on terrorism if he goes after them.