If this was already posted, I apologize for the double post.
Saudis storm hijacked Russian plane, three die
By Abbas Salman
MEDINA, Saudi Arabia, March 16 (Reuters) - Saudi commandos stormed a hijacked Russian airliner and freed more than 100 passengers on Friday after the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane, Saudi authorities said.
Three people were killed in the operation, carried out in broad daylight on the runway at Medina airport. Reports on casualties were confused but appeared to show that one hijacker and two hostages had died.
"The storming operation ended with the arrest of the kidnappers and the freeing of the passengers and crew," a Saudi Interior Ministry statement said.
It said the attack was launched when hijackers "threatened to blow up the plane" after negotiations reached deadlock.
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef said the hijackers had demanded that the plane be refuelled and allowed to leave.
"But the request was rejected and Saudi special forces stormed the plane and rescued the passengers and crew without the participation of any outside party," Prince Nayef said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
The hijackers, believed to be Chechens, seized the airliner after it took off from Istanbul on Thursday and forced it to fly to Saudi Arabia. There, they demanded that Russia end its tough military campaign in the rebel Muslim region of Chechnya.
Pistol-wielding Saudi commandos scaled ladders and battered their way through the doors of the plane as it stood on the sunbaked tarmac of Medina airport on Friday after a long night of fruitless negotiations.
The Interior Ministry said the troops shot dead one hijacker after he killed a woman hostage, and said one other hostage was also killed in the raid.
A Saudi security man who said he had taken part in the attack said none of the Saudi troops had been hurt.
In Moscow, a senior Russian official said the dead were a passenger, a crew member and a hijacker.
"According to our information, three people died during the operation -- one of the terrorists, the youngest one, a female flight attendant and one Turkish passenger," the Russian said.
A Saudi doctor had earlier said three hijackers were killed.
The ministry did not say how many hijackers were arrested. But Saudi television showed footage of the raid in which commandos wrestled three men to the tarmac and tied their hands behind their backs. Russian officials had earlier said there were four hijackers.
PASSENGERS TELL OF TERROR
One Russian woman passenger said after being taken to a hotel in Medina: "I saw three hijackers. They treated us well, but sometimes they threatened to blow up the plane. We were frightened and worried. I am tired now."
Another woman, choked by tears, refused to talk, while other freed hostages gathered in the hotel lobby.
The aircraft had been bound for Moscow with 162 passengers and 12 crew when it was seized. More than 40 hostages were released, including a flight attendant stabbed by the hijackers, or escaped in Medina before the aircraft was stormed.
Hours of tough negotiations preceded the commando operation to free the hostages. Shortly before it began, hijackers were shown on television talking with a Saudi negotiator on the steps of the plane, parked in a remote part of the airport runway.
A red, green and white striped Chechen flag was draped over the open door of the Tupolev 154, operated by Vnukovo Airlines.
Saudi television showed film of commandos wearing flak jackets and helmets scrambling up ladders to reach the plane doors.
They kicked open one emergency door, and a few hostages emerged onto the wing with their hands in the air.The rest of the hostages, clearly exhausted and frightened, poured down the plane's steps into waiting buses.
Ambulance workers rushed up the stairs to the plane and came out carrying a woman on a stretcher. One elderly passenger was in tears.
A Saudi airport official said the hijackers had demanded enough fuel to fly 5,000 km (3,000 miles). He did not say where they wanted to go. Officials said Saudi negotiators had demanded the release of all hostages.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the formation of a special crisis team of top officials to deal with the hijack, the Kremlin said.
HIJACKERS' LEADER A "TRAINED OFFICER"
A Russian diplomat in Saudi Arabia said the hijackers' leader was a "highly trained military officer who appears to know what he is doing."
In Amman, a representative of the former Chechen republic, Atfayva Fariza, identified him as Artsayev Aslambik.
Asked to comment on suggestions that Fariza was referring to former general and Chechen Interior Minister Aslanbek Arsayev, the Russian diplomat said: "It could well be true. But we are not 100 percent sure."
A pro-Chechen press agency which describes itself as the outlet for statements by separatist forces in Chechnya said the rebels had nothing to do with the hijack because "hostage-taking and blackmail are not our way of fighting."
Arsayev promised to establish the "cult of law" in Chechnya amid rampant kidnapping by armed bands and illegal oil refining, but failed to achieve worthwhile results.
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