December 7, 1972: Attempted hijacking in Ethiopia

On this day in 1972, members of the Eritrean Liberation Front attempted to hijack an Ethiopian aircraft but were all killed by security agents on board.

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – Is there anything worse than hijacking a plane only to get killed without having achieved anything?

Ethiopia has been in the news a lot lately. That nation, which has seen a lot of internal unrest, civil war and famine over the decades, has been front-page news once again because of yet another war pitting one ethnic group against another.

The east African nation is home to a wide variety of languages and cultures and governing the lot has proven to be a challenge. The current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea and democratic reforms, has elected to send troops to the northern province of Tigray to engage the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which the government sees as a terrorist group. The war is believed to have caused the deaths of thousands and driven 46,000 refugees to Sudan, itself a land beset with ethnic strife.

But back to PM Ahmed. His Peace Prize was granted for his efforts to mend fences with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s next door neighbour with which it had fought a war over decades. That the two now seem to get along is a good thing, although the fact that the emergence of Eritrea as an independent nation meant that Ethiopia lost its access to the Red Sea and this may lead to renewed hostilities one day.

On this day in 1972

Peace with Eritrea was not always in the cards. On this day in 1972, members of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) hijacked an Ethiopian airliner as it left Addis Ababa on its way to Rome. Five men and two women stood up, pulled out guns and began shouting orders in Amharic: one of the hijackers activated a grenade which a passenger picked up and lobbed it toward an unoccupied part of the passenger cabin where it exploded (but miraculously did not do so much damage to bring the plane down: it made an emergency landing back in Addis Ababa).

Security teams on board also opened fire and killed six of the hijackers: the seventh died later in hospital. What this incident achieved is hard to fathom: no one was killed, all the hijackers died, nothing gained. This has to be a fortunate example of a terrorist attack that went nowhere.

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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