Saudi security forces stormed a hijacked Russian plane today, freeing more than 100 hostages and ending a tense drama that began when Chechen MUSLIM rebels armed with knives commandeered the aircraft after take-off from Istanbul and threatened to blow it up.
Three people – a flight attendant, a hijacker and a passenger – were killed and several others were injured, the Saudi Interior Ministry said.
Paramedics at the scene said a woman – the flight attendant – was knifed to death and two men were killed by gunfire. The Interior Ministry said the flight attendant was killed by the hijackers during the rescue operation. The other hijackers were arrested, the ministry said, without giving their number.
The Saudis said they decided to storm the plane, in consultation with the Russian government, after reaching “a dead end” in on-again, off-again negotiations during the 18 hours the jetliner was parked on the tarmac at Medina International Airport.
“The goal of the storming operation was to save the lives of the passengers and the crew with the least number of casualties possible, and it concluded in record time after the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane,” the Saudi Interior Ministry statement said.
The number of hijackers was variously put at two, three or four after the Vnukova Airlines plane was hijacked Thursday afternoon shortly after taking off from Istanbul on a flight to Moscow with 174 persons aboard. As many as 46 of the hostages – mostly women, children and elderly people – were freed or escaped from the Tupolev 154 jet Thursday night in Medina.
The hijackers were trying to call attention to what they considered atrocities committed by Russia in their native Chechnya, according to a Chechen representative in Jordan. At one point during the hijacking, a Chechen flag was seen taped to the side of the plane as it sat on the Medina tarmac.
“It is a humanitarian issue. Their demands include halting the genocide in Chechnya and sitting at the negotiating table with (Chechin) President (Aslan) Maskhadov to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” Aftayeva Fariza, the Chechen representative, said.
In Moscow, aides to Kremlin envoy Sergei Yastrzhembsky said one Turkish passenger, one hijacker – “apparently the younger one,” and one stewardess were killed. A surgeon who boarded the plane after the rescue operation said seven people were injured, and most of them were being treated for minor cuts and bruises.
Minutes before the plane was stormed, more than 30 members of the Saudi army’s special forces unit in full battle gear, armed with semiautomatic rifles and wearing helmets and bullet proof vests, were loaded into an army bus.
Topa Bilgetin Toker, general director of Turkish Civilian Aviation, said the Saudi forces stormed the plane after the pilots managed to escape from the aircraft.
Aftayeva identified the hijackers as Aslambek Arsayev, the former Chechen security minister, and his brother, Sufian. She said the information comes from a third brother, Adam, who was not among the hijackers.
Vladimir Pronichev, first deputy director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, told RTR state television that negotiations to extradite the hijackers were under way, but that they will take time. He said Moscow was insisting on trying the hijackers. (And hopefully hang them. Thank God they won’t be tried under Obama justice) UK DAILY MAIL
Moscow Battles Muslim Insurgency In South
Russia is facing growing violence in Muslim regions on its southern rim. Islamic extremists seeking to create an independent Muslim state in the Caucasus regions are attacking security forces and officials on an almost daily basis.
In turn, the authorities are cracking down with illegal abductions, torture and disappearances.
Russia’s republic of Ingushetia, racked by corruption and poverty, is at the center of the new violence. An overwhelming majority of its population of about 350,000 is Muslim, and its people have close historical and cultural ties to neighboring Chechnya, another restive Russian republic where Moscow has fought two wars since the Soviet Union collapsed. READ MORE: NPR