Hijackers Release Five Hostages In Munich
MUNICH, Germany (AP) _ Pro-Chechen hijackers released five of their 109 hostages from aboard a Turkish Cypriot airliner early Saturday after reportedly demanding a human rights lawyer and contact with the press.
Two men, two women and one child were met by police after descending the steps from the plane.
Negotiators said the hostages had agreed to release a mother and her child and a woman who recently had surgery, but they had not expected the two men also to be freed.
``The operation is moving forward,″ said investigator Winfried Bischler.
Negotiators said they were in telephone contact with the hijackers via a Turkish translator and were seeking a peaceful end to the incident.
The releases came after the gunmen demanded to speak with a human rights lawyer and to give a statement to the media. It was not clear where those demands stood.
The freed hostages told officials that the hijackers were armed with at least one automatic weapon and a bomb, Bischler said.
About 200 police were on alert at the airport, but they were staying out of the hijackers’ view. ``We’re handling this so we get the best result,″ Munich airport police commissioner Egon Schaedle said.
Bavarian radio reported that two anti-terrorist commando units stationed near Bonn were on their way to Munich, and armored vehicles were also being brought to the airport.
Airport spokesman Hans-Joachim Bues said the hostages _ 101 passengers and eight crew members _ appeared to be in good health.
The Turkish Cypriot transportation minister identified the hijackers as Azerbaijanis, the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported. It gave their names as Burliant Akarova, Iliana Verlikova, Nailia Rustemova and Alekram Alekperov.
Earlier, the hijackers were identified variously as Chechens or Russians. It was also not clear how they were armed. The deputy head of Bulgaria’s national security service, Vladimir Markov, said they had pistols.
A Bulgarian security official and the Turkish ambassador to Sofia said the hijackers were supporters of rebels fighting for Chechnya’s independence from Russia.
The Boeing 727 landed in Munich at 11:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. EST) Friday, some 5 1/2 hours after it was commandeered after taking off from northern Cyprus for Istanbul. It stopped first in Sofia, Bulgaria, but the hijackers demanded fuel and to fly to Germany.
Mehmet Irtemcelik, Turkey’s ambassador to Bulgaria, told the private Turkish television station HBB that 47 Turks, 33 Turkish Cypriots, two Russians, and at least five Belgians were among the passengers.
The others included an American, Japanese, Iranian, Dane, German, Ukrainian and Sudanese. The American was identified by Turkey’s Anatolia news agency as James Richard Walton, but no hometown was given.
Earlier, the hijacked plane had been shadowed by Bulgarian MiG-23 warplanes as it descended toward the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, about 9 p.m. (2 p.m. EST), airport authorities said.
A crew member disembarked briefly to oversee the refueling process, but Danyo Adanev, director of Sofia airport, said no passengers left the plane.
The head of the board of directors for Turkish Cypriot Airlines, Umit Utku, was quoted by Anatolia as saying the Bulgarians refueled the plane after the hijackers threatened to blow it up.
On Jan. 16, nine pro-Chechen gunmen, protesting Moscow’s attempt to crush a rebellion by Chechen separatists, hijacked a Turkish ship in the Black Sea and kept more than 200 people hostage for three days from a Turkish port before it was to sail off for the Russian port of Sochi.
They included six Turks and three Russians of Caucasian origin.
The hijackers diverted the ship toward Istanbul but Turkish authorities refused to allow the ferry into the Bosporus Strait and negotiated a peaceful end, capturing the hijackers.