Britons home after hijack say they were 'treated like royalty'

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The Independent Online

Passengers from a hijacked Saudi Arabian Airlines flight arrived in Britain yesterday to be debriefed by Special Branch officers while relatives waited to be reunited with them.

Passengers from a hijacked Saudi Arabian Airlines flight arrived in Britain yesterday to be debriefed by Special Branch officers while relatives waited to be reunited with them.

As the freed hostages arrived at Heathrow's terminal 3, police officers questioned each of them. A Foreign Office spokesman said the officers were trying to find out exactly what had happened during the hijacking.

Eighty-six passengers, including 40 Britons, had landed 40 hours later than scheduled after their London-bound flight was diverted to Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein's decision not to use them as pawns in negotiations over the lifting of UN sanctions has already been described as a propaganda coup for the Iraqi President.

Many of the freed hostages were quick to praise the Iraqis yesterday, insisting they had been "treated like royalty". Some passengers described how officials had seemed keen to curry international favour.

Omer Moghraby, 23, a medical student from Dulwich, south-east London, said the hostages had been given tourism leaflets upon their release. "At the airport, we were met by the transport minister and his entourage. The minister said he wanted to welcome us to his country and that they wanted to do absolutely everything they could to make our stay comfortable," Mr Moghraby said. He added: "They took us in a three-coach convoy to the five-star AlRasheed Hotel and ushered us into a big banqueting room. It had a large banner up saying 'Iraqi Tourism Week', and there was a giant picture of Saddam Hussein on skis and wearing a ski mask." Another of the freed passengers, Christopher Fowler, of Newport in Gwent, came through to the arrivals hall with his family, clutching a bottle of champagne. He paused to show it to the waiting media before leaving without comment.

Elsewhere, there were more emotional scenes. There were tears and hugs as two stewardesses were reunited with their loved ones. Shaking and sobbing, one said: "Everything's just fine now."

Neil Broomfield, a 24-year-old businessman from Portsmouth, Hampshire, said: "It's wonderful to be home. I'm glad to be back and out of Iraq."

Waqas Hussain, a Pakistani student arriving to start a degree in defence studies at King's College London, said the attack appeared to have been well-calculated. "The men occupied the front seats and would have booked them many months in advance and carefully planned what they were doing," he said.

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