The hijacking of Air France flight 8969

The hijacking of Air France Flight 8969 in December, 1994 (GIGN assaulted plane and freed hostages)

For the passengers and crew onboard of Air France flight 8969 everything was normal on December 24, 1994, until four terrorists from the Algerian terrorist group GIA (Islamic Armed Group) disguised as security agents stormed the plane at Houari Boumediene airport in Algeria. At first, people onboard didn’t have any suspicion because the alleged agenst got onto the plane and regulary stareted to check passports. Suddenly, they pulled out their Uzi’s and AK-47. The Air France flight 8969 was hijacked. Terorrists barricaded themselvs and the first thing they did was the murder of two passengers. To prove their commitment, they killed an Algerian police officer and a Vietnamese diplomat.

Only 15 minutes later, the French government was notified about the hijacking through their own intelligence channels. French intelligence agents were already assigned to monitor Algerian military and police radio traffic where they found that something has happened on the airport. The government immediately put their elite counter-terrorism unit GIGN on standby.

GIGN deployment to Algeria

The Algerian interior minister personally led the negotiations with the terrorists, that used the pilot as a go-between. After four hours of negotiations, the members of notorious GIA cell agreed to release some of the hostages. From the descriptions the freed hostages gave, the Algerian intelligence services quickly identified the terrorists including their leader Abdul Abdullah Yahia. They seemed well planned and very cold-blooded.

Nearly nine hours into the crisis, the French government ordered GIGN to move. 35 GIGN commandos took off from Paris, to fly to Palma De Mallorca in Spain where they should wait for further orders. The French government couldn’t persuade the Algerian government to accept help from the GIGN.

From Algeria to Marseilles

The day after the hijacking, the terrorists wanted to take off and fly to Paris. The Algerian security forces weren’t willing to let the plane to take off. The hijackers threaten to kill a French passenger and did when the Algerians didn’t give in to their demands. The French Prime Minister phone his Algerian counterpart and demanded they led the plane leave. Finally, on December 26, 1994, the plane left Algeria and headed for France.

At the same day, the plane carrying the GIGN commandos was already in the air heading for Algeria but was ordered to turn around and head for Marseilles. Additional GIGN reinforcements brought to Marseilles, so the total number of commandos were 51. The aircraft carrying the GIGN commandos touched down before the hijacked aircraft.

When the hijacked aircraft carrying terrorists and hostages was safely down at Marseilles, French negotiators immediately started their task. They took their time, meanwhile disguised GIGN commandos examined the plane for booby-traps at the possible entry points and placed listening devices on the outside of the plane. The official negotiations continued for hours and the terrorist got impatient and wanted to take off again and leave Marseilles.

Green light for GIGN

In the afternoon of December 26, 1994, at 1645 hours the terrorist open one of the doors and opened fire at the control tower. Fearing the terrorists would kill more hostages the GIGN was given green light.

At 1717 hours three eight-man teams went into action. Using three mobile ramps they approached the aircraft but were spotted by the terrorist who opened fire. The first team went through the front door and the first six commandos that went into the aircraft were injured. The other two teams went into the aircraft through the aircraft’s rear doors. The heavy firefight occurred, but after one and a half minute the first hostages were evacuated alongside the wounded commandos. The remaining terrorists retreated to the cockpit where they were pinned down.

The GIGN could storm the cockpit but didn’t dare since the terrorists still had the pilot and a steward with them. The co-pilot had jumped out one of the cockpits windows when the attack had started.

The two terrorists continued to exchange fire. A GIGN commando threw a flash-bang grenade through a cockpit window, but the grenade didn’t have much effect on the terrorists. During the standoff with the terrorists in the cockpit, and almost four minutes from the beginning of the action, all the hostages were evacuated except for the pilot and the steward who were still in the cockpit.

The aftermath of extensive shooting during the standoff with the terrorists barricaded in the cockpit
The aftermath of extensive shooting during the standoff with the terrorists barricaded in the cockpit

GIGN snipers positioned on the roofs of the surrounding airport buildings were ordered to open fire on the cockpit. The firefight continued for several minutes, and suddenly the shooting stopped and over the radio the pilot told that all the terrorists were dead. The two remaining hostages were evacuated from the aircraft. Amazingly they were both unarmed.

Aftermath

A 17-minutes long attack had ended successfully. Over 1500 rounds had been fired, while four hijackers were killed. In total, three passengers were executed while the 173 people were saved. As a result of the damage to the aircraft, the A300 was written off.