New evidence on BA flight trapped by Gulf war

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The Independent Online
EVIDENCE is mounting to suggest that the British Airways jumbo that landed in Kuwait just as the Iraqis invaded was sent in deliberately, probably by the Government for military reasons.

Passengers in three countries have already filed legal suits alleging that the airline negligently put their lives at risk, but the Independent on Sunday publishes new evidence today that has prompted the Labour Opposition to demand that the Government provide full details of its role in the affair.

There has been controversy ever since flight BA 149 from London was trapped in Kuwait on the morning of the invasion. Both British Airways and the then Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher, have denied that it could have been turned back before landing.

At least 200 people were on board, most of whom were taken prisoner, some of them later used as 'human shields' by Iraq. Allegations were soon made that British military personnel had been on board and they had melted away as soon as it landed, avoiding capture. The implication was that they were flown in to go undercover and provide intelligence during the Iraqi occupation. BA denies categorically that the flight was used as a Trojan horse in this way.

Our investigation has established that:

American intelligence sources say the invasion took place at least two hours before the plane landed, and there was time for the British embassy in Kuwait to warn BA before the plane landed.

Passengers later taken hostage by the Iraqis claim to have been told by Ministry of Defence personnel held captive with them that the plane was 'talked down' from the control tower at Kuwait airport by British military advisers to the Kuwaiti government.

The BA flight was the only one to land after the invasion had begun. All planes scheduled to land later were diverted and others already in Kuwait had flown out ahead of schedule.

BA staff have claimed that a group of a dozen men whom they believed to be soldiers boarded the flight before it left London. They had been booked in from Hereford, the base of the Special Air Service.

A member of the Kuwaiti royal family who is thought to have had a military role was also on the plane with his bodyguard.

Labour's John Prescott MP, shadow transport spokesman, said yesterday that damaging rumours would abound until the Government and BA came clean with full details of the circumstances surrounding the flight. 'We need a full inquiry into the circumstances surrounding flight 149, to discover whether civilian lives were put at risk for military or political purposes,' he said. 'British Airways could help to answer questions about a military presence on the plane by publishing the full passenger list at the time this scheduled commercial flight took off from Heathrow.'

Trojan horse, page 10