Chechen passenger with fake bomb starts emergency in Israel

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The Independent Online

A hijacker with a fake bomb and a list of strange and muddled demands almost plunged the Middle East into still deeper crisis yesterday after seizing control of a Russian plane and forcing it to fly to Israel.

A hijacker with a fake bomb and a list of strange and muddled demands almost plunged the Middle East into still deeper crisis yesterday after seizing control of a Russian plane and forcing it to fly to Israel.

Major-General Giora Eiland, the Israeli chief of military operations, said the lone hijacker was overpowered and disarmed after he left the plane to meet negotiators at a remote Israeli military airbase.

"It was clear he was not exactly sane. He gave all sorts of ... strange messages. Basically he was concerned that the yellow or Asian race was taking over the white race," Major-General Eiland said.

News of the hijacking had caused an emergency in Israel, where it was at first thought to be the work of a band of Islamic guerrillas from the war-torn Chechen region intent on highlighting the Palestinian cause. Fearful that mishandling the hijacking could widen the conflict and set the Muslim world alight, Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, who had earlier set off for the United States, decided to fly home.

Last night two Russian airliners were flying back to Russia, carrying the hijacker and passengers on separate planes. Israel was insisting on a Russian pledge that the hijacker would not be put to death.

Mr Barak, a former general and special forces commando who once successfully stormed an aircraft seized by Palestinian hijackers, heard about the hijacking while on a refuelling stop in Britain.

There were conflicting claims as to the hijacker's identity. A Russian embassy official who went to the military airbase where the plane landed said the hijacker was Dagestani. Another report said that he was a Chechen in his twenties. He had commandeered the Tupolev Tu-154 flying from Dagestan in southern Russia - which borders Chechnya - to Moscow. One report said the plane belonged to Vnukovo Airlines, another said Dagestan Airlines.

Most of the passengers among the 57 people on board were football fans, supporting their local team at an away match. The flight was diverted to Baku, Azerbaijan, where it was refuelled before heading toward Israel.

The pilot told Israeli air traffic controllers: "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."

Israel initially refused permission to land, and was determined not to let the plane touch down at the country's main airport, Ben Gurion near Tel Aviv. While the plane circled over the Mediterranean Sea, an Israeli air force jet flew near by.

Eventually, the plane landed at the Uvda military airbase in the Negev desert, a few miles west of the Jordanian border, after the Russian pilot said he was running low on fuel.

Another Israeli general, Yomtov Samia, said the man claimed to have been told by his father to send a message to the world and the emperor of Japan. He carried racist letters warning about the "yellow peril".

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