September 6, 1970: Attempted hijacking of aircraft in Amsterdam foiled

On September 6, 1970 a member of the Sandinista was shot and killed as he tried to hijack an El-Al flight leaving Amsterdam.

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS – Terrorism can sometimes make for strange bedfellows.

I am fairly certain you have all heard the phrase ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. It sure gets used a lot!

The underlying premise is that groups of people who both see a third group as inimical to their desires have something in common and hence can – and should – work together. After all, is it not better to have more, rather than fewer, resources to devote against one’s enemy?

Apparently the earliest known expression of this concept can be found in a Sanskrit┬átreatise on diplomacy called the Arthashastra, which dates to around the 4th century BC! Interestingly, some are musing that the US government may see Taliban terrorists, who have just conquered Afghanistan – again! – as an ally against the Islamic State in Khorasan (ISK) who happen to be worse, and more brutal, terrorists.

What could possibly go wrong by working with THESE guys?? (Photo: By bluuurgh – Own work, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)

At times, though, this adage is hard to fathom. I think today’s attack is a good example.

On this day in 1970

A member of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the revolutionaries who overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in that country in 1979, a man named Patrick Arguello, was shot and killed as he tried to hijack an El-Al flight leaving Amsterdam. Here is where it gets interesting: his attempt to take over the airliner was on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The Sandinistas apparently supported the PFLP in hopes of getting guerrilla training for their struggle.

We ran towards the cockpit. We passed through the first class — it was a matter of seconds. I heard some shooting and then I saw someone in first class grabbing the telephone and trying to call someone. I showed them the two activated hand grenades and asked them to open the door. One of the flight attendants was also banging on the door saying, “Open! Open!” Someone looked through the peephole but did not open the door.

Fellow hijacker Leila Khalid

Now I happen to know that Nicaragua is far from Palestine and the ideological similarities between the Sandinistas and the PLFP are not obvious, at least not to me. Perhaps Israel as a US ally was enough: the US after all supported the Somoza family in Nicaragua. Or maybe the lure of training was all it took. Or something else.

In any event this attack is a reminder that smuggling guns and grenades onto a plane was not that hard fifty years ago. Thankfully times have changed!

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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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