The biggest terrorist tragedy the world has so far seen is being planned aboard a large airplane that is parked on the tarmac at Marseilles Airport in France.
The men are carrying powerful bombs and are well-armed.
Storm the plane to lose 173 passengers and crew, or let it take off and pay a bigger price, no third option was available.
This is the inside story of the hijacking, with eyewitness testimonies and video footage.
Air France 8969
On December 24, 1994, the crew and passengers on board Air France Flight 8969 expected a quick and uneventful flight from Algiers to Paris.
four men dressed as Algerian policemen boarded the plane for what appeared to be a routine check.
The Algerian military started surrounding Air France flight 8969 as soon as they noticed that the Air France flight 8969 appeared to have an unauthorized delay
The crew on board recognized those men as terrorists right away when One of the hijackers shouted “taghut,” the Arabic word for “infidel,” as soon as he noticed the GIS operators assembling outside the aircraft.
Initially, the passengers had no idea that the fake security officers had boarded the aircraft and had begun routinely checking passports, suddenly they pulled their AK-47 and Uzi assault guns. Shortly after, hijackers took control of Air France flight 8969.
To prove their commitment, hijackers killed two passengers, a Vietnamese diplomat, and an Algerian police officer.
The hijacking was reported to the French authorities via their intelligence channels about 15 minutes later.
The GIGN, the government’s top counterterrorism unit, was placed on alert right away.
The negotiations with the terrorists who employed the pilot as a go-between were personally led by the interior minister of Algeria.
The renowned GIA cell members agreed to free several hostages after four hours of negotiations.
The Algerian security services soon recognized the terrorists, including their leader Abdul Abdullah Yahia, based on the descriptions provided by the released prisoners.
The French government instructed 35 GIGN operators to move after nearly nine hours into the hijacking and hostage crisis. They took off from Paris and flew to Palma de Mallorca in Spain. But The Algerian government refused to accept assistance from the GIGN
From Algeria to Marseilles
The hijackers intended to depart and fly to Paris the following day. But the Algerian security forces refused to allow the flight to take off. When the Algerian authorities failed to comply with their demands, the hijackers killed a French passenger shortly after
Calling his Algerian counterpart, the French Prime Minister authorized the jet to take off, and the plane departed Algeria for France on December 26, 1994.
The plane carrying the GIGN operators was on its way to Algeria that day when it was told to turn around and fly for Marseilles. There were now 51 operators traveling to the Marseille airport as more GIGN forces were sent to Marseilles.
The GIGN operators’ aircraft landed ahead of the hijacked aircraft, and as soon as Air France Flight 8969 touched down in Marseille, the negotiators began talking with the terrorists.
GIGN started planning the daring raid, they examined the plane for possible entry points and also placed listening devices on the plane chassis. The official negotiations went on for hours, but the terrorist got impatient and wanted to depart Marseilles.
Greenlight for GIGN
At 16:45 on December 26, 1994, the terrorist got impatient and started shooting at the control tower after opening one of the plane’s doors. In order to prevent the terrorists from killing more hostages, the GIGN was given the green light.
At 1717 hours, three eight-man teams went into action, they used three mobile ramps to approach the aircraft, but as they did, the terrorist opened fire.
The first team entered the plane through the front door, and the first six operators were injured. The rear doors of the aircraft were used by the other two teams to enter.
A heavy firefight occurred, but after only 90 seconds, the first hostages were evacuated alongside the wounded operators.
The GIGN could storm the cockpit but didn’t dare since the terrorists still had the pilot and a steward. The co-pilot had jumped out one of the cockpit windows when the attack had started.
A flash-bang grenade was thrown through the cockpit window by a GIGN operator, but the terrorists were unhurt. All hostages were released during the four-minute confrontation with the terrorists in the cockpit, with the exception of the pilot and steward, who remained in the cockpit.
GIGN snipers positioned on the surrounding airport buildings’ roofs were ordered to open fire on the remaining terrorists in the cockpit.
After several minutes of gunfire, the shooting suddenly ceased, and the pilot announced over the radio that all of the terrorists had been killed.
Millions of people had the opportunity to see how the GIGN put a stop to the hostage situation, as direct national TV coverage of the GIGN raid portion that involved overtaking the hijacked Air France flight 8969 was broadcast.
Air France 8969 aftermath
The 17-minute assault had been successful. While four hijackers were killed, more than 1500 bullets had been discharged. Three passengers were executed in total, while 173 were saved. The A300 was written off due to the damage to the aircraft. The A300 crew and the GIGN forces were awarded the highest national honors.
The investigator came to the conclusion that the terrorists had intended to blow up the plane over the Eiffel Tower after conducting additional research into the incident. That claim comes from the former leader of the militant group.