March 28, 1981: Indonesian commandos foil hijacking in 81 seconds

On this day in 1981 members of the Indonesian terrorist group Jihad Command hijacked a domestic flight but forced to fly to Malaysia and then to Bangkok.

PALEMBANG, INDONESIA – What is it with airliners and terrorists, anyways?

If you are a terrorist, and I sincerely hope that none of my ‘followers’ are of that ilk, you want one thing and one thing only. OK, maybe two, but not more than that.

1. You want to kill and maim people.

2. You want lots of people to notice.

Interestingly, veteran US terrorism scholar Brian Jenkins – who featured in a podcast with me a few years back – once wrote: “terrorists want a lot of people watching, not a lot of people dead.” So maybe it only is one thing?

One of the best ways of course to get attention is to hijack an airplane. No matter how many times this occurs – and it happens a lot less frequently than it once did, thank God! – it receives a lot of coverage. Maybe it is the venue, maybe it is the complete lack of options for the victims (it is not as if you can just step out the door at 37,000 feet after all!): whatever it is it does capture our eyes and ears.

And terrorists often have multiple reasons for taking over a plane.

On this day in 1981

Members of the Indonesian terrorist group Jihad Command, which had been involved in an attack on a police station in Bandung, West Java on March 11, hijacked a DC-9 of the state-run Garuda Airlines which was on a domestic flight but forced to fly to Malaysia and then to Bangkok.

The terrorists demanded the release of five of their comrades who had been arrested in the police station attack. Indonesian commandos rushed the airliner three days later, killed four of the five hijackers and freed all 55 hostages aboard. A member of the assault force and the chief pilot were wounded in the gun battle, which lasted all of three minutes.

They did it in 81 seconds!”

Description of the commando rescue operation

We rarely hear of successful airline hijackings in the 2020s (9/11 was of course the mother of all such acts). Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Read More Today in Terrorism

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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