BBC on the Entebbe Raid

Raid on Entebbe
Major hostage takings

Entebbe, Mogadishu and Baader-Meinhoff
A primer on cold war terrorism

Terrorism wasn’t invented on September 11th, 2001. More than one Sandbaggers episode makes reference to ongoing wave of post-WW2 terrorism that grew out of the muddle of geopolitics in the jet age. How unlikely was the kidnapping of a British permanent under secretary by a German gang as depicted in Season One of the Sandbaggers? Such an idea was pulled from the headlines, not thin air. Moreover, the thrilling episode of Decision by Committee has Willie in steerage and Karen in first class in a Boeing 707 that has been hi-jacked by Iraqi terrorists was also similarly timely.

Iraqi politics in 1979s saw Saddam Hussein take power. He killed opponents domestically and abroad, including an attempted murder by an axe-swinging hit man in London. Throughout the hijacking episode, there are references to the place names of Entebbe and Mogadishu. In the kidnapping episode, the cryptic name Baader-Meinhoff rates a mention. As it happens, these are related.

Entebbe
At 12:30 p.m, on June 27, 1976 a mere 10 minutes after the Airbus 300b left the runway, eight Palestine Liberation Organization high-jackers and two other individuals took control of Air France 139 from Athens to Paris. The hijackers ordered the jet to Libya for refueling. One female hostage was allowed her freedom before the plane took off after its seven-hour stopover for its final destination, the international airport at Entebbe Uganda. (Uganda is hinted at in another episode of the Sandbaggers.)

The two other high-jackers were members of the Baader-Meinhoff gang.

General Idi Amin, the strongman ruling Uganda, was a supporter of the PLO cause.
The hijackers demanded that political prisoners in Israel, Germany, Switzerland, France and Kenya be released.

All non-jews were released and Air France scrambled a special flight to Entebbe to pick up the freed passengers. One hundred and three Jewish and Israeli passengers remained aboard Flight 139. One nun volunteered to trade places with a hostage but she was carried to safety by local soldiers. The airplane captain refused to leave. The pilot promised his passengers that he would not leave them. Amazingly, his entire flight crew--including the flight attendants--followed his lead and stayed to comfort their passengers.

Operation Thunderbolt
The Israelis decided to send in the troops. They did so with the assistance of Kenya, whose government were ferocious opponents of General Amin’s regime and the Israeli firm which built Entebbe Aeroport happily supplied blueprints to military planners. As well, the released hostages were more than willing interviewees. It has been alleged that a mock-up of the air terminal was constructed quickly so the exercise could be planned. Similar suggestions were made more recently in the Times of London, which claimed that a mock-up of the Iranian reactor that is now in the news is being used in training by the Israeli Defense Force.

At 11 p.m. on July 4th, four Hercules transports suddenly landed at Entebbe Airport in the middle of the night without telling air traffic control a word. If someone had been close enough to see, the observer would have noticed the planes landing with their cargo doors open.

As the planes slowed a black Mercedes limousine and several Jeeps emerged. These sped toward the terminal to create confusion--perhaps one of Amin’s enforcers was arriving? Perhaps General Amin himself? The observer might have noticed that the ‘limousine’ had been spray painted black, but in the dark, who would be able to tell?
Then, 100 Israeli Defense Forces troops emerged and stormed the Airbus.

The raid lasted three minutes. Six hijackers and three hostages were killed. One passenger died when he leapt toward his rescuers.

The Ugandans opened fire, killing the Israeli commander. The IDF troops fired back, killing 45 Ugandan troops, and damaging several fighter planes that were nearby. The hostages were flown to Nairobi, and then Israel.

Fall Out
One of the hostages killed was not on the plane. Seventy-five year old Dora Bloch had been moved to Kampala hospital after she started chocking. In 1987, it was revealed that she was pulled from her hospital bed and murdered after the raid. Amin had given the order. Her body was recovered in 1979 after Amin had been pulled from power.

An Amin-like character is hinted at in another episode of The Sandbaggers, ‘It Couldn’t Happen Here.’ Interestingly, in an August 17th interview with BBC 4 in 2003, David Owen revealed that when he was the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary from 1977 to 1979, he suggested that Amin be assassinated. His plan was shot down. Nevertheless, Owen remains an advocate of the idea: "Amin's regime was the worst of all. It's a shame that we allowed him to keep in power for so long."

Amin died in exile in Saudia Arabia in 2003. Actor Joseph Olita talks about playing Idi Amin on film on the CBC Radio One program Dispatches. You can listen to the interview with the Real Audio Player.

Generally, air transportation companies have a policy of telling their crews to ‘abandon ship’ in case of a hostage taking in order to deprive high-jackers of mobility. Consequently, upon his return to France, Air France Pilot Michel Bacos was rewarded for his troubles by being punished by his employers with a suspension. The Israeli commander who died was Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu. Posthumously, the name of the operation was renamed Operation Yonotan in memorial.

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