Hijackers in Sudan free hostages
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – Six hijackers armed with hand grenades and pistols seized an Ethiopian plane carrying at least 50 passengers and diverted it to Khartoum. The attackers released all their hostages hours later and surrendered early Friday, officials said.
”All of them have been released,” said Ghazi Salah el-Din Atabani, Sudan’s minister of information. ”The hijackers will be tried according to international laws.”
There were no reports of serious injury among the passengers or hijackers.
Atabani told a news conference at Khartoum airport that the hijackers surrendered after receiving assurances that they would be treated fairly and would not be sent back to Ethiopia.
Authorities had barred journalists from the airport throughout most of the standoff and exact details of how the hijacking ended were not immediately available.
Atabani then introduced one of the attackers, who identified himself as Bagemberman Tebegne, a member of the Ethiopian air force.
Tebegne told reporters the six seized the plane to ”draw international attention to the terrible economic and political situation in Ethiopia and the lack of freedoms.”
It was not clear if the hijackers were students at Addis Ababa University as had been earlier reported by state-run Sudanese television.
Most of the passengers on board the plane were military personnel.
The end of the hijacking came hours after government officials and officials from the United Nations and the Red Cross began negotiating with the hijackers, who included five men and one woman. Earlier reports said there were nine attackers.
A few hours after the plane landed in Khartoum, the hijackers released 11 women and children.
Atabani said earlier that the hijackers had been seeking political asylum.
The television report said the hijackers wanted to meet with U.S. and British diplomats. It wasn’t immediately clear if that had occurred.
The United States is represented in Sudan by charge d’affaires Glenn Warren, but it was not clear if he was in the country. And a British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that he wasn’t aware of any call for involvement by his country.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told Qatar’s Al-Jazeera satellite television that the hijackers landed in Khartoum because they were running out of fuel, adding he did not know what their intended destination was.
The Antonov 12 aircraft originated in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and was heading to northern Ethiopia when the hijackers seized the plane, the TV report said. It landed at Khartoum airport at 6:20 p.m., it said.
A crew member who managed to escape out the back of the plane said the hijackers were armed with hand grenades and pistols, the TV report said.
It was not clear which carrier owned the flight. An Ethiopian Airlines official said he had no information about a hijacking.
The United States withdrew its ambassador to Sudan in 1997, saying the government supports terrorism and has an appalling human rights record. For security reasons, diplomats rotate in and out of the embassy, which operates with a staff of three.
The hijacking follows clashes last week in Addis Ababa between university students and police – the worst violence in the Ethiopian capital since 1993. At least 41 people were killed in fighting sparked by weeklong protests by students demanding greater academic freedom.
On Thursday, Ethiopian officials began releasing hundreds of students arrested during the riots. Students so far have refused to return to Addis Ababa University, where authorities were requiring them to sign statement accepting a ban on demonstrations.
Student unrest in the 1960s and 1970s preceded upheavals that forced Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, to institute reforms and ultimately led to his ouster in 1974. Students were also influential in organizing resistance to the military regime that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991.
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