Entebbe, Mogadishu and Baader-Meinhoff
A primer on cold war terrorism
Terrorism wasn’t invented on September
11th, 2001. More than one Sandbaggers episode makes reference
to ongoing wave
of post-WW2 terrorism that grew out of the muddle of geopolitics
in the jet age. How unlikely was the kidnapping of a British
permanent under secretary by a German gang as
depicted in Season
One of the Sandbaggers? Such an idea was pulled from the headlines,
not thin air. Moreover, the thrilling episode of Decision
by Committee has Willie in steerage and Karen in first class
in a Boeing 707 that has been hi-jacked by Iraqi terrorists was
also similarly timely.
Iraqi politics in 1979s saw Saddam Hussein
take power. He killed opponents domestically and abroad, including
an attempted murder
by an axe-swinging hit man in London. Throughout the hijacking
episode, there are references to the place names of Entebbe
and Mogadishu. In the kidnapping episode, the cryptic name Baader-Meinhoff
rates a mention. As it happens, these are related.
At 12:30 p.m, on June 27, 1976 a mere 10 minutes after the Airbus
300b left the runway, eight Palestine Liberation Organization
high-jackers and two other individuals took control of Air France
139 from Athens to Paris. The hijackers ordered the jet to Libya
for refueling. One female hostage was allowed her freedom before
the plane took off after its seven-hour stopover for its final
destination, the international airport at Entebbe Uganda. (Uganda
is hinted at in another episode of the Sandbaggers.)
The two other
high-jackers were members of the Baader-Meinhoff gang.
General Idi Amin, the strongman ruling Uganda, was a supporter
of the PLO cause.
The hijackers demanded that political prisoners in Israel, Germany,
Switzerland, France and Kenya be released.
All non-jews were released and Air France scrambled a special
flight to Entebbe to pick up the freed passengers. One hundred
and three Jewish and Israeli passengers remained aboard Flight
139. One nun volunteered to trade places with a hostage but she
was carried to safety by local soldiers. The airplane captain
refused to leave. The pilot promised his passengers that he would
not leave them. Amazingly, his entire flight crew--including
the flight attendants--followed his lead and stayed to comfort
The Israelis decided to send in the troops. They did so with
the assistance of Kenya, whose government were ferocious opponents
of General Amin’s regime and the Israeli firm which built
Entebbe Aeroport happily supplied blueprints to military planners.
As well, the released hostages were more than willing interviewees.
It has been alleged that a mock-up of the air terminal was constructed
quickly so the exercise could be planned. Similar suggestions
were made more
recently in the Times of London, which claimed
that a mock-up of the Iranian reactor that is now in the news
is being used in training by the Israeli Defense Force.
At 11 p.m. on July 4th, four Hercules transports suddenly landed
at Entebbe Airport in the middle of the night without telling
air traffic control a word. If someone had been close enough
to see, the observer would have noticed the planes landing with
their cargo doors open.
As the planes slowed a black Mercedes limousine and several
Jeeps emerged. These sped toward the terminal to create confusion--perhaps
one of Amin’s enforcers was arriving? Perhaps General Amin
himself? The observer might have noticed that the ‘limousine’ had
been spray painted black, but in the dark, who would be able
Then, 100 Israeli Defense Forces troops emerged and stormed the
The raid lasted three minutes. Six hijackers and three hostages
were killed. One passenger died when he leapt toward his rescuers.
The Ugandans opened fire, killing the Israeli commander. The
IDF troops fired back, killing 45 Ugandan troops, and damaging
several fighter planes that were nearby. The hostages were flown
to Nairobi, and then Israel.
One of the hostages killed was not on the plane. Seventy-five
year old Dora Bloch had been moved to Kampala hospital after
she started chocking. In 1987, it was revealed that she was pulled
from her hospital bed and murdered after the raid. Amin had given
the order. Her body was recovered in 1979 after Amin had been
pulled from power.
An Amin-like character is hinted at in another episode of The
Couldn’t Happen Here.’ Interestingly,
in an August
17th interview with BBC 4 in 2003, David Owen revealed
that when he was the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary from
1977 to 1979, he suggested that Amin be assassinated. His plan
was shot down. Nevertheless, Owen remains an advocate of the
idea: "Amin's regime was the worst of all. It's a shame
that we allowed him to keep in power for so long."
died in exile in Saudia Arabia in 2003. Actor Joseph Olita
talks about playing
Idi Amin on film on the CBC
Radio One program
You can listen
to the interview with the Real Audio Player.
Generally, air transportation companies have a policy of telling
their crews to ‘abandon ship’ in case of a hostage
taking in order to deprive high-jackers of mobility. Consequently,
upon his return to France, Air France Pilot Michel Bacos was
for his troubles by being punished by his employers with a suspension.
The Israeli commander who died was Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu.
Posthumously, the name of the operation was renamed Operation
Yonotan in memorial.
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