Christmas eve 1994…..as Algeria was facing an internal civil war between the Algerian Government and various Islamic rebel groups the country tried to regain normalcy even under the intense pressure that started under the Algerian mujahideen that started in 1991. Aircraft flying to Algiers faced the possibility of missile attacks. As a result, Air France’s flights to Algiers had crews entirely made of people who volunteered for the route. Facing the possibility of being blown out of the sky, those who worked the Air France flight, were desperate to make the best of it for the customers who were trying to rush home for the holiday. 11:03am….four men dressed as Algerian presidential police boarded the plane.
As they entered the plane those who were seated did not act surprised at their appearance. They said they needed to check the passengers’ passports but their nervous behavior — and the fact they were armed — raised the suspicions of one of the flight attendants, Claude Burgniard, a flight attendant, recalled noticing that the “police” were armed and one of them had dynamite showing, which she considered to be unusual as the Algerian police were not normally armed when carrying out checks.
The Algerian military who were outside the plane and who allowed the “policemen” to enter had begun to surround the plane after the unsuspected delay to depart. The four hijackers then revealed that they were not police, but mujaheddin seeking to establish an Islamic state in Algeria. They had hijacked the aircraft because the national airline Air France was a symbol of France, which they viewed as infidel foreign invaders. Abdul Abdullah Yahia, a notorious murderer, and the other three members of the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, or GIA) brandished firearms and explosives and announced their allegiance to the GIA, demanding co-operation from the 220 passengers and 12 flight crew. They immediately made the women cover their faces, and started to place the dynamite inside the cockpit. The hijackers, in particular one called “Lotfi”, disliked seeing a lack of adherence to their Islamic beliefs; according to Burgniard, the hijackers objected to men and women sitting together.
“We are the Soldiers of Mercy. Allah has selected us as his soldiers. We are here to wage war in his name.”
Abdul Abdullah Yahia
At noon, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alain Juppé, organized a crisis team. It was around this time that the deadly attacks on certain males began. It started with the passport checks of the passengers. One of them, an Algerian police officer, was forced to come up near the boarding stairs entry, his pleas for survival went unheard as they shot him and dumped the body on the tarmac floor.The Algerian authorities still refused to agree to the hijackers’ demands.
However, the hijackers released some of the passengers, mainly women with young children and those with severe medical conditions. And by the end of 25 December, the hijackers had freed a total of 63 passengers. During the hours and days, the hijackers and police traded demands and counter assurances. On Christmas Day — the French Interior Minister learned some terrible news from a mole in the Algiers Islamic Group who had planned the hijack. ‘The terrorists’ true aim was to crash the plane in Paris.
The French government now pleaded with its Algerian counterpart to allow the plane to get airborne, but with only enough fuel to reach Marseilles. On December 26th, the plane finally took off, touching down in Marseilles at 3.30am. Shortly after their landing, in the darkness of night, the GIGN (French National Gendarmerie) tactical unit specialized in hijackings made use of airstrairs to board the plane. But one of the hijackers noticed what was happening, however the response was late. The GIGN were able to board the plane, and a firefight ensued. The GIGN ordered passengers and crew to get down as low as possible with their hands over their heads, hide, and then to not move as the scene turned to near chaos.
As the smoke cleared, all 4 of the hijackers lay dead, but the remaining 154 passengers remained alive while 13 had minor injuries but 3 passengers were killed before the raid took place.. Hijacking the plane and it’s ultimate goal to crashing it into the Eiffel Tower, may have been the blueprint for the hijackings which took place just 7 years later on September 11th 2001.