Hijacked Saudi Plane Takes off From Baghdad
The passengers and crew of a Saudi airliner hijacked to Baghdad took off from Saddam International airport on Sunday around 1905 GMT heading to Riyadh, an AFP journalist at the airport reported.
The passengers had returned to Saddam International Airport and began boarding a flight home after waiting all Sunday for the Iraqi green light, an AFP journalist reported.
Their luggage had been loaded and the group were led on to the plane by a member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Bandar bin Abdel Rahman, 20, a reporter at the airport said.
They had arrived in buses, but the prince traveled in a luxury limousine with Iraqi officials.
Iraqi Transport Minister Ahmed Murtada bade farewell to the 90 passengers and 14 crew of the Jeddah-London flight, which was hijacked to the Iraqi capital on Saturday.
"Bon voyage and a happy return to your countries," Murtada told the group, according to the Iraqi News Agency INA.
The Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 777 was due to fly first to Riyadh en route for London.
The hijackers of the airliner are Saudis and both sergeants, one in the kingdom's intelligence services and the other in the passport service, and each carried a revolver, a Gulf source said Sunday.
"They do not belong to any political group and were armed only with their revolvers," he said.
They were identified as Faisal Naji al-Balawi and Ayesh Ali al-Fridi, but the source said it was not clear which man worked in which service.
Their names figure on the Saudi Arabian Airlines flight's official passenger list published in Sunday's Arabic newspapers.
They surrendered without a fight after forcing the plane to land late Saturday at Saddam International Airport, leaving all aboard to walk free unharmed.
But they then told journalists they still had a bomb on the plane, that the affair was not over and they still wanted to "negotiate".
The pair called for an inquiry into human rights abuses in Riyadh, slammed the Riyadh regime as being under US hegemony, and, according to some reports, requested political asylum.
"I have a detonator in my pocket which I can activate to trigger a bomb placed on the plane," one of the two, circled by Iraqi police but looking relaxed, said at the airport.
The other hijacker, concealing part of his face with a scarf, said their aim was "to demand justice and equality in Saudi Arabia" and called for an inquiry into alleged corruption and human rights abuses in the kingdom.
They also denounced "the presence of the US and British armies" in Saudi Arabia, echoing a common theme of anti-Riyadh hostility in Baghdad.
And they voiced solidarity with the sanctions-hit Iraqi people.
The hijackers nonetheless said they had treated the passengers well during their ordeal, which passengers confirmed.
"We treated them like brothers," one of the two told journalists – (AFP)
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