Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Iraqi Airways Flight 163 Hijacked and Crashed in Arar, Saudi Arabia

Iraqi airways flight 163 was a Boeing 737-270c, with registration no. IY-AGJ. This flight witnessed a hijacking on Dec 25, 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war. The doomed Iraqi airways flight 163 departed from Baghdad to an intended destination of Amman, the flight was to make a detour over Saudi Arabia. Briefly after the aircraft entered Saudi airspace, 4 hijackers armed with plastic explosives, attempted to take over the plane. However keeping the ongoing dispute in mind and the possibility of such events, Iraqi security officers onboard the plane starting shooting at the attempted hijackers while the flight was still 28,000 feet in the air. According to reports by Salim Abdel Dado, a Jordanian passenger who happened to have witnessed the whole ordeal claimed that around 100 shots were fired in the duration of 4-5 minutes which left the hijackers wounded.

The wounded attempted hijackers however exploded one device in the cockpit while tossing a grenade, which went off in economy class and filled the cabin with black thick smoke. The Boeing 737 was in flight for 20 more minutes, descending towards an airstrip in the desert near the city of Arar, but unfortunately crashed short of its intended target. The plane reportedly broke into two pieces and caught fire. 62 people were killed as a result of this, as reported by Saudi Arabian authorities. Saudi authorities also reported that a total of 106 people were on board, which included both crew and passengers, out of which only 43 survived. This particular hijacking was one of the most deadly, in a series of hijackings between 1985 and 1986 which had plagued the area.

After the incident the pro-Iranian group “Islamic jihad”, which is a widely used name for Hezbollah, was claiming the responsibility of the hijacking. The CIA offered to assist the Saudi Authorities and later identified one of the deceased hijackers as Ribal Khalil Jallul. Ribal was a Lebanese national who was identified with the help of his passport photo, as it matched a Hezbollah martyr poster which was discovered from near a mosque in Beirut. This incident further tensed the relation between the two countries who were already at war. Iraq has always claimed that Iran was behind this atrocious act and many other hijackings like this, and Iran has always denied any involvement in such activities.

This was not the first time that Saudi Arabia had witnessed hijackings and neither was it the last. Flights in and out of Saudi Arabia have witnessed a number of hijackings over a span of decades. A Saudi Arabian flight had been hijacked over the Mediterranean Sea and diverted to Baghdad. However not all hijackings were as deadly as flight 186, this flight landed safely in Iraq and all hostages were safely evacuated. After the 9/11 attacks, security for international flights has been raised greatly. Such acts are much more difficult to proceed with, now that intelligence agencies are helping the airport security in identifying a possible threat, before they are able to gain access to the flight.

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