Leila Khaled - The Hijackings

The Hijackings

On August 29, 1969, Khaled was part of a team that hijacked TWA Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Athens, diverting the Boeing 707 to Damascus. She claims she ordered the pilot to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birthplace, which she could not visit. No one was injured, but the aircraft was blown up after hostages had disembarked. According to some media sources, the PFLP leadership thought that Yitzhak Rabin, then Israeli ambassador to the United States, would be on board. This was, however, denied by Khaled and others. After this hijacking, and after a now famous picture of her (taken by Eddie Adams) holding an AK-47 rifle and wearing a kaffiyeh was widely published, she underwent six plastic surgeries on her nose and chin to conceal her identity and allow her to take part in a future hijacking, and because she did not want to wear the face of an icon.

On September 6, 1970, Khaled and Patrick Argüello, a Nicaraguan, attempted the hijack of El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York City as part of the Dawson's Field hijackings, a series of almost simultaneous hijackings carried out by the PFLP. The attack was foiled, when Israeli skymarshals killed Arguello before eventually overpowering Khaled. Although she was carrying two hand grenades at the time, Khaled said she had received very strict instructions not to threaten passengers on the civilian flight. (Patrick Argüello, the co-hijacker, shot a member of the flight crew).

The pilot diverted the aircraft to Heathrow airport in London, where Khaled was delivered to Ealing police station. On October 1, the British government released her as part of a prisoner exchange. The next year, the PFLP abandoned the tactic of hijacking, although splinter movements would continue to hijack airplanes.

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