December 24, 1994: GIA hijacking in France

On this day in December 1994 GIA terrorists hijacked a French airliner with a plan of exploding it over the Eiffel Tower.

MARSEILLES, FRANCE – Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so they say. This also goes for terrorists.

Why do terrorists do what they do? Well, it is not that complicated. They want to instill fear and terror in the societies. They want to be seen as important. And they want to be noticed. No one carries out an attack in an empty field – unless he is an idiot.

They also want to establish precedent. If they can execute an action that is viewed as so impressive that it becomes the new norm. Others pick up on it and seek to replicate it.

Many saw 9/11 as a new type of terrorism. Who would ever have thought of flying a plane into a building?

Well, as it turns out, Algerian jihadis had, almost a decade earlier.

On this day in 1994

Algerian Islamist extremists belonging to the Groupe Islamique Arme (GIA) hijacked an Air France airliner in Algiers. Heavily armed gunmen killed two passengers soon after they took over the wide-bodied Airbus A300 aircraft. After Algeria had refused permission for the plane to leave and France offered to send specially trained commandos to free the hostages, both governments appeared to back down from their hard line, seemingly bending to the terrorists’ threat to kill more passengers. It was allowed to fly to Marseilles.

Don’t kill me, I am married, I have a child.

Last words of an Algerian policeman killed by the terrorists

Except that the plan was to blow up the plane over the Eiffel Tower in Paris. That monument is to Paris was the twin towers were to New Yorkers: we all know what happened on 9/11.

French commandoes stormed the plane and killed all four terrorists: no other passengers lost their lives. Less than seven years later Al Qaeda terrorists succeeded in flying two airliners into buildings. The rest is, as they say, history.

In two ways, then, 9/11 was preceded by earlier plans: the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as this hijacking. Sometimes terrorists tip their hands. We might want to take notice.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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