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Plane Refueled; Hijackers Say They Will Take Off

April 8, 1988

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ Airport workers in northeast Iran refueled a Kuwaiti jetliner and its Arab hijackers said they would take off Friday morning with about 50 hostages held for three days, Iran’s news agency reported.

The plane was refueled after the hijackers fired at security guards at the Masshad airport and threatened to force the pilot to fly with the little fuel left in the jet’s tanks, said the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

It first quoted the hijackers as saying the plane would leave at midnight (4:30 p.m. EDT), in a dispatch filed only two minutes before that time, and said later the departure had been delayed until 6 a.m. (10:30 p.m. EDT). The second departure time passed with no new word from IRNA.

No destination was given.

According to IRNA, Iranian officials asked the hijackers for the extension to provide time for the Turkish and Pakistani prime ministers, Turgut Ozal and Mohammed Khan Junejo, to talk to Kuwaiti officials in an effort to convinve them to accept the hijackers’ demand.

The hijackers, said to number five to seven, want Kuwait to free 17 pro- Iran extremists convicted and imprisoned in the Persian Gulf sheikdom for bombings at the U.S. and French embassies there in 1983.

IRNA, monitored in Nicosia, said Ozal spoke by telephone with Prime Minister Hussein Musavi of Iran on Thursday.

It said Musavi told Ozal his government wanted to end the incident without ″any unhappy event,″ but added: ″Of course you should know that our possibilities are limited and therefore we hope the Kuwaiti government will understand the restrictions in the holy city of Mashhad and fulfil its humanitarian duty, in trying to bring the problem to a peaceful end.″

Thirty-two people were released from the plane early Thursday and, along with 25 freed earlier, left Mashhad for Kuwait, the agency reported. The British Foreign Office said early Friday that the passengers had arrived in Kuwait.

The hijacking occurred early Tuesday, as the plane with 112 people aboard was flying from Bangkok to Kuwait.

When IRNA reported the original departure time, it said ″there are still obstacles on the runway,″ placed there earlier by airport officials to keep the jet from taking off.

On the third day of the drama, the hijackers said they placed explosives throughout the Kuwait Airways Boeing 747, which still had 55 passengers and crew aboard, IRNA reported.

Among the hostages are three members of Kuwait’s royal family. One appealed to Iranian authorities to provide jet fuel, IRNA said.

″We’re very tired and our brothers (the hijackers) are very serious in their threat to blow up the plane,″ Fadel Khaled al-Sabah told the control tower by radio, IRNA reported.

The hijackers fired several shots out of the plane Thursday after repeating their demand for fuel, IRNA said. It did not mention casualties.

Iranian media and some of the freed hostages have described the hijackers as masked, Arabic-speaking men armed with pistols and hand grenades.

One of the passengers, Josef Degeorgi, 53, of Austria, told The Associated Press the gunmen carried handguns and claimed to have hand grenades. He said there were seven and that all wore masks.

In London, freed British passenger Jean Sefton was quoted Thursday as saying that two of the hijackers offered her pillows and drinks and chatted with her daughters in English.

″We didn’t have time to be frightened, things happened so fast,″ Ms. Sefton told London’s Daily Mail.

IRNA had reported that Iranian officials were refusing to supply fuel or food to the hijackers unless the passengers and crew were released. But the refueling went ahead without any more releases reported.

IRNA paraphrased an Iranian negotiator, Deputy Prime Minister Ali-Reza Moayyeri, as saying a Kuwaiti negotiating team in Mashhad ″does not take the issue (of the hijacking) seriously.″

Kuwait has rejected the hijackers’ demands.

The Kuwait News Agency reported that the government sent a letter to Musavi praising Iran’s efforts to end the hijacking but opposing any moves to allow the plane to leave.

Numerous acts of terrorism in Kuwait have been blamed on Shiite Moslems acting with backing from Iran, which acccuses Kuwait of aiding Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Kuwaiti diplomats were brought home after their embassy in Tehran was ransacked.

Bahraini sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said passports held by five alleged Bahrainis aboard the plane must be fake.

They said that when the passport numbers were provided by authorities in Bangkok and checked in Bahrain, they did not match with the names given.

No positive breakdown by nationality of the remaining hostages was possible, due to discrepancies between lists released by IRNA and by the airline’s offices in Bangkok.

Update hourly