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El-Al hijacking attempt foiled

Published November 18, 2002

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - Security guards on Israel's national airline El Al overpowered a man who tried to hijack a flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul yesterday.

None of the 170 passengers on board the Boeing 757 was harmed and the plane landed safely, said Oktay Cakirlar, an official at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport.

The semi-offficial Anatolia news agency identified the hijacker as Tawfiq Fukra, a 23-year-old Arab with an Israeli passport.

Cakirlar said El Al Flight 581 sent out a hijacking signal as it approached Istanbul but the suspect was overcome.

"No one was injured," Cakirlar told The Associated Press by telephone. "The terrorist is in custody at the police station at the airport."

Turkey's private CNN-Turk and NTV televisions quoted police sources as saying that the alleged hijacker was an Israeli Arab and was armed with a knife.

The television reports said the man was overpowered by two Israeli security guards aboard the plane.

He reportedly first threatened a flight attendant with a knife and tried to approach the cockpit but he was overpowered by two security guards, one posing as a passenger, CNN-Turk television said.

"We heard people saying there was fighting and half a minute later it became clear that from row five or six a man ran amok toward the pilot's cabin, attacked a stewardess and tried to enter the cockpit," an Israeli passenger on the plane told Israel army radio.

"We saw a stewardess running like crazy from the front of the place to the business section ... She was terrified," said the passenger, Menachen Binet.

Security guards "threw him to the floor with his legs spread and his face to the floor. The passengers were hysterical but the flight attendants were very cool, they calmed us down," he said.

At the airport, passengers could be seen going through security checks, where they were frisked, and passport control.

El Al is widely regarded as the world's most protected airline, but also one of the most threatened. From the late 1960s into the 1980s, El Al planes and passengers were subjected to shooting attacks, hijacking and bombing attempts.

El Al's formidable security includes armed guards at check-in, on-board marshals and extensive searches of luggage. Passengers are told to arrive three hours ahead of flights to allow enough time for the security checks.

On the Fourth of July, an Egyptian immigrant, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, opened fire at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles Airport, killing two people before he was shot dead by an airline security guard. Nothing was found to link the incident to terrorist groups and the motive remained unknown.

Hadayet, however, had previously told U.S. authorities that he was falsely accused of being in a militant Egyptian group that the United States now lists as a terror group.