THE HIJACKING OF A TANZANIAN AIRCRAFT, FEBRUARY, 1982:
STATEMENT BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE TANZANIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER
Five Tanzanians have been charged in the United Kingdom with the act of hijacking the Air Tanzania aircraft. All five are related through birth and marriage: two pairs of brothers and a brother-in-law (whose sisters are married to the eldest brother in each pair).
All five are young people in their early twenties. Their standard of education is Primary School Standard Seven up to Secondary School Standard Twelve (equivalent to Junior Secondary in the U.K.). One elder brother (the leader of the group) is a taxi driver. The other elder brother is an odd job man. The rest were all school leavers at the time of the hijacking and were thus not in any employment. Despite claims to the contrary the leader of the group had had no military training in Tanzania nor any connection with the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces so far as could be ascertained. Only the leader of the group had been outside Tanzania before. He had worked as a seaman, in the course of which he had visited the United Kingdom and Greece among other countries where ships call.
The two married men had their families on board the aircraft – one a wife and two children; the other a wife and one child. All the 5 relatives returned to Tanzania with the other hostages after failing to secure permission from the British authorities to remain in the U.K. The decision to refuse the request to stay was made by the British authorities.
The weapons (real and imitation) used by the hijackers to secure control of the aircraft included: two wooden imitation pistols, an imitation hand grenade, two candles wrapped up to appear like gelignite explosive sticks and three knives. But in the course of the flight possession was obtained of a hand gun (0.38 revolver), a shot gun and a rifle. These weapons belonged to passengers who had surrendered them to the Captain of the ‘plane in accordance with the regulations on the transportation of arms on aircraft. The ammunition for the 0.58 revolver which wounded the First Officer was obtained by the leader of the group from the owner after threatening him with a knife.
Passengers and Crew
The aircraft was under the command of a Tanzania captain assisted by a First Officer and a crew of 3. The flight left Mwanza with 99 passengers on board all bound for Dar es Salaam. 5 disembarked in Nairobi and 2 in Athens, the rest continued with the flight to Stansted.
All hostages except two returned to Dar es Salaam in the hijacked aircraft. The two exceptions were the First Officer who was still in hospital recovering from his injuries and a subsequent operation to remove the bullet and a Roman catholic priest whose final destination when he boarded the ‘plane at Mwanza had been Rome. The priest had hoped to stay in Dar es Salaam for a few days making arrangements to travel to Rome for medical treatment. In the event he found himself at Stansted and it made no sense for him to return to Dar es Salaam only to arrange another trip to Europe. So he travelled direct to Rome. No other passengers remained behind despite wide-spread reports to the contrary.
Motive of the Hijackers
From the accounts of the many people who established contact with the hijackers and especially those who negotiated with them, there appear to be only two consistent themes in their demands. The first one is that of wanting President Nyerere to resign. The reasons they gave were incoherent, confused, even laughable e.g. the entire original charge of “fascism” advanced by the leader of the hijackers: The second one is derived from the way the hijackers acted. Why did they bring along their families? Did they expect that after carrying out the hijack the British authorities would allow them or their families to remain in the U.K.? Whatever they might have thought, the result did not warrant the methods and it is regrettable that some commentators should lay blame on anything else but wrong-doing.
Accomplices in Tanzania
The leader claimed a membership of some 3,000 young men and women of an alleged movement which he variously described as the “Tanzania Youth Democracy Movement” or the “Tanzania youth Revolutionary Movement”. Investigations carried out both during and after the incident have revealed no such movement. Instead they have led to the arrest of four accomplices in Tanzania. These have now been brought before a court to answer a charge of conspiracy.
There was only one casualty throughout the ordeal, which lasted for 36 hours between Mwanza and Stansted – that of the First Officer who was shot by the leader of the hijackers in circumstances which suggest carelessness.
Release of Hostages
The whole strategy of handling the hijackers was to buy time without giving in to their demands. As part of this strategy the negotiations were intended to talk them into submission. By the end of the first round of negotiations involving the High Commissioner on Saturday night and Sunday morning the strategy was already paying off. The hijackers were already showing signs of fatigue and it was quite apparent that they could not hold out for much longer. That, at any rate, was the impression they gave the negotiators. For example, by about 2.00 a.m. on Sunday morning they were too tired to open the aircraft door to receive the food and water they had been clamouring for. Thus it was no surprise when they gave in and released the first seven hostages some moments before Kambona came on the scene. Soon after all the rest were released.
The five are facing trial in the U.K. in accordance with the law here. Despite press speculation, Tanzania is quite happy to see the law take its course and has made no attempt to seek the extradition of the five to Tanzania.