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Passengers Aboard Hijacked Plane Didn’t Know

July 27, 1996

MIAMI (AP) _ Newlyweds Jose Amaya and Susana Gonzalez were three hours on their way to a honeymoon in Havana when the pilot got on the loudspeaker and made a strange announcement.

``He said, due to circumstances beyond their control, there would be a detour to Miami to drop off one passenger,″ Amaya, 28, of Barcelona, Spain, recalls.

The announcement was the only clue the 218 passengers aboard Iberia Airlines’ Madrid-to-Havana flight had that they were being hijacked, Amaya said Friday.

Saado Ibrahim, 27, surrendered in Miami, where he had successfully diverted the plane after threatening to blow it up, authorities said. The foil-covered package he claimed was a bomb was actually a tape recorder he dismantled in the bathroom, authorities said.

Amaya said the pilot told him that the hijacker had wanted to go to Miami, believing he would spend two or three years in jail and leave with a U.S. passport.

``His demand was to come here,″ FBI special agent Paul Philip said in Miami. ``He got his wish. He is at present a guest of the United States government.″

If convicted of air piracy, Ibrahim faces at least 20 years in prison. He will be arraigned in Miami on Monday.

Ibrahim, a Lebanese refugee, spent the night in Madrid’s Barajas Airport after arriving from Zurich before boarding Flight 6621 for Havana, Spanish authorities said. The DC-10, with 218 passengers and 14 crew members aboard, left Madrid at 6:28 a.m. EDT.

A few hours into the flight, authorities said, Ibrahim went to the bathroom with a tape cassette player, pulled two wires out of it and covered it with aluminum foil.

He emerged with the package, cornered the first flight attendant he saw and thrust a letter opener covered with tape in her face, said Spanish government spokesman Francisco Garcia.

``If I put these two wires together, this bomb will blow up,″ he said, speaking in broken Spanish, English and French, according to Garcia.

The plane landed safely at about 3 p.m. EDT in Miami, where authorities negotiated with the man. After he agreed to surrender, police rushed aboard to arrest him.

``We were on the ground for about 20 minutes, joking that it was a kidnapping, when suddenly 30 Rambo types stormed onto the plane,″ Amaya said. The passengers had been unaware until that time that the plane was hijacked, he said.

After midair negotiations began, Ibrahim quickly let officials know he wanted to surrender.

``We didn’t ask for much,″ Phillip said. ``It was a pretty simple negotiation.″

Salvador Humbert, General Manager of Iberian Airlines, called the hijacker ``polite, you could say.″

Philip described the passengers as ``hungry and tired.″ Many were European tourists headed to Cuba for vacations, airline officials said.

The hijacking comes a day after President Clinton announced tighter security measures at U.S. airports in the wake of the July 17 crash of TWA Flight 800 in New York.

Humbert said security in Madrid’s international airport would continue as normal. ``We have our procedures and we will keep doing what we have been,″ he said.

The plane remained at Miami International Airport for just over six hours as crews searched the plane and luggage and questioned passengers, mostly Europeans bound for vacations in Cuba, before leaving for Havana.

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