Freed airline hijack victims arrive safely in Britain

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The Independent Online

The bulk of the passengers hijacked on a London-bound Saudi Arabian Airlines flight finally arrived in Britain on Monday, 40 hours after their ordeal began.

The bulk of the passengers hijacked on a London-bound Saudi Arabian Airlines flight finally arrived in Britain on Monday, 40 hours after their ordeal began.

The plane was hijacked on Saturday moments after takeoff from Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, by two Saudis who said they wanted rights for their country's people. The jet eventually landed in Baghdad, where the two men surrendered peacefully after hours of negotiations.

Relatives began lining up at London's Heathrow Airport almost four hours before the flight arrived this morning.

One Muslim family carried "Welcome Home" placards as they waited to greet a couple caught up in the hostage drama on their way back from a pilgrimage.

The granddaughter of Ghulam and Tyab Qureshi, Amreen, held a homemade sign on which she and her two cousins had written: "Thank you, Saddam & Iraqi people for taking good care of our grandparents."

"We were so worried about my parents, we did not know what to do, and hardly slept all weekend," said Amreen's father, Shabir Qureshi.

"All weekend we have just been praying nonstop," said Mohammed Asjid, who came to greet his father, Mohamed Akbar, 53, who also had been away on a pilgrimage. "Now I can't wait to see him."

But the families had to wait while officers from Britain's Special Branch debriefed the 81 passengers. The Foreign Office said the purpose of the debriefing was to establish exactly what happened during the hijacking, indicating Iraq had provided little information.

Airline officials said the seven passengers who chose to stay behind in Saudia Arabia were six Saudi citizens and the sole American on the hijacked flight.

The passengers had been flown back to Saudi Arabia from Baghdad on Sunday night. Some passengers were so excited to be going home after 24 hours in Iraq that they ran across the tarmac to the aircraft.

Saudi Arabia's interior minister, Prince Naif, told reporters Monday that his country would do all it could to extradite the hijackers. His government has identified them as Faisal al-Biloowi and Ayish al-Faridi. Hijacking carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

It is unclear whether Iraq will extradite them. The two countries have had no relations since Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, but a pre-Gulf War treaty provides for extradition.

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