Dawson's Field hijackings

Dawson's Field hijackings
Dawson's Field hijackings

The airliners on the ground during the PFLP-hosted press conference
Location Zarka, Jordan
Coordinates 32°6′22″N 36°9′36″E / 32.10611°N 36.16°E / 32.10611; 36.16Coordinates: 32°6′22″N 36°9′36″E / 32.10611°N 36.16°E / 32.10611; 36.16
Date September 6, 1970 (1970-09-06)
Target Release of Palestinian prisoners imprisoned in Israel
Attack type 5 aircraft hijackings, another attempted but failed
Weapon(s) Firearms and hand grenades
Victim 310 hostages
Perpetrator(s) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Defender(s) Bar Lev, passengers and sky marshal (Flight 219)

In the Dawson's Field hijackings (September 6, 1970) five jet aircraft bound for New York City were hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In the incident one hijacker was killed, and one injury was reported on El Al flight 219.

While the majority of the 310 hostages were transferred to Amman and freed on September 11, the PFLP segregated the flight crews and Jewish passengers, keeping the 56 Jewish hostages in custody, while releasing the non-Jews.[3] On September 12, prior to their announced deadline, the PFLP used explosives to destroy the empty planes, as they anticipated a counterstrike.[1] Most of the gathered news media missed the destruction but the explosions were caught by a British television crew from ITN who had been informed by locals who had themselves been informed by members of the PFLP.[citation needed]

The PFLP's exploitation of Jordanian territory in the drama was another instance of the increasingly autonomous Arab Palestinian activity within the Kingdom of Jordan – a serious challenge to the Hashemite monarchy of King Hussein. Hussein declared martial law on September 16, and from September 17 to 27, his forces deployed into Palestinian-controlled areas in what became known as Black September in Jordan, nearly triggering a regional war involving Syria, Iraq, and Israel with potentially global consequences. Swift Jordanian victory, however, enabled a September 30 deal in which the remaining PFLP hostages were released in exchange for Khaled and three PFLP members in a Swiss jail.[1]



El Al Flight 219

An El Al Boeing 707-358B landing at Zürich Airport, Switzerland in (1982)
El Al Flight 219
Hijacking summary
Date September 6, 1970
Type Attempted Hijacking
Site Over the English Channel
Passengers 138
Crew 10
Injuries 1
Fatalities 0
Survivors 148
Aircraft type Boeing 707–300
Operator El Al Israel Airlines
Tail number 4X-ATB
Flight origin Ben Gurion International Airport
Stopover Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy International Airport

El Al Flight 219 (type Boeing 707, serial 18071/216, registration 4X-ATB) originated in Tel Aviv, Israel, and was headed to New York City. It had 148 passengers and 10 crew members aboard. It stopped in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and was hijacked shortly after it took off from there by Patrick Argüello,[4] a Nicaraguan American, and Leila Khaled, a Palestinian.

The original plan was to have four hijackers aboard this flight, but two were prevented from boarding in Amsterdam by Israeli security—these two conspirators, traveling under Senegalese passports with consecutive numbers,[5] were prevented from flying on El Al on September 6. They purchased first-class tickets on Pan Am Flight 93 and hijacked this flight instead.

Posing as a married couple, Argüello and Khaled boarded the plane using Honduran passports—having passed through a security check of their luggage—and were seated in the second row of tourist-class. Once the plane was approaching the British coast, they drew their guns and approached the cockpit, demanding entrance. According to Khaled, in an interview in 2000,

"So half an hour (after take off) we had to move. We stood up. I had my two hand grenades and I showed everybody I was taking the pins out with my teeth. Patrick stood up. We heard shooting just the same minute and when we crossed the first class, people were shouting but I didn't see who was shooting because it was behind us. So Patrick told me 'go forward I protect your back.' So I went and then he found a hostess and she was going to catch me round the legs. So I rushed, reached to the cockpit, it was closed. So I was screaming 'open the door.' Then the hostess came; she said 'she has two hand grenades,' but they did not open (the cockpit door) and suddenly I was threatening to blow up the plane. I was saying 'I will count and if you don't open I will blow up the plane.'"[6]

After being informed by intercom that a hijacking was in progress, Captain Uri Bar Lev decided not to accede to their demands:

"I decided that we were not going to be hijacked. The security guy was sitting here ready to jump. I told him that I was going to put the plane into negative-G mode. Everyone would fall. When you put the plane into negative, it's like being in a falling elevator. Instead of the plane flying this way, it dives and everyone who is standing falls down."[4]

Bar Lev put the plane into a steep nosedive which threw the two hijackers off-balance. Argüello reportedly threw his sole grenade down the airliner aisle, but it failed to explode, and he was hit over the head with a bottle of whiskey by a passenger after he drew his pistol. Argüello shot steward Shlomo Vider and according to the Israeli account, was then shot by a sky marshal.[5] Khaled was beaten up by security and passengers, while the plane made an emergency landing at London Heathrow Airport; she claimed that Argüello was shot four times in the back after being beaten and bound. Vider underwent emergency surgery and recovered from his wounds, while Argüello died in the ambulance taking both him and Khaled to Hillingdon Hospital. Khaled was then arrested by the British government.

Nationalities on Flight 219

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Israel 118 10 128
 Netherlands 10 0 10
 United States 10 0 10
Total 138 10 148

TWA Flight 741

TWA Flight 741
Hijacking summary
Date September 6, 1970
Type Hijacking
Site Over Brussels, Belgium
Passengers 144
Crew 11
Injuries 0
Fatalities 0
Survivors 155
Aircraft type Boeing 707–331B
Operator Trans World Airlines
Tail number N8715T
Flight origin Ben-Gurion International Airport
Stopover Ellinikon International Airport (1)
Frankfurt International Airport (2)
Destination John F. Kennedy International Airport
A TWA 707 at the gate.

TWA Flight 741 (type Boeing 707, serial 18917/460, registration N8715T) was an around-the-world flight carrying 144 passengers and a crew of 11. The flight on this day was flying from Tel Aviv, Israel to Athens, Frankfurt am Main and then to New York City, and was hijacked on the Frankfurt-New York leg. In an interview for the film Hijacked, Flight 741's purser, Rudi Swinkles, recalled, "I saw a passenger running toward first class. I ran after him, and when he came to first class to the cockpit, he turned around, had a gun in his hand, and pointed the gun at me, and said, 'Get back, get back.' So right away, I dove behind the bulkhead first class divider, and I hid behind it, over here."[7]

It landed at Dawson's Field in Jordan at 6:45 p.m. local time.[8]

Hijackers gained control of the cockpit and stated, "This is your new captain speaking. This flight has been taken over by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. We will take you to a friendly country with friendly people."[3]

Among the passengers was Yitzchok Hutner.[citation needed]

Nationalities on Flight 741

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Germany 16 2 18
 Greece 2 0 2
 Israel 55 0 55
 Italy 1 0 1
 Netherlands 1 0 1
 United Kingdom 18 0 18
 United States 51 9 60
Total 144 11 155

Swissair Flight 100

Swissair Flight 100
Hijacking summary
Date September 6, 1970
Type Hijacking
Site Over Dijon, France
Passengers 145
Crew 8
Injuries 0
Fatalities 0
Survivors 152
Aircraft type Douglas DC-8
Aircraft name Nidwalden
Operator Swissair
Tail number HB-IDD-{{{2}}}
Flight origin Zurich Kloten Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy International Airport
Pan Am Flight 93
Hijacking summary
Date September 6, 1970
Type Hijacking
Site Over Scotland
Passengers 136
Crew 17
Injuries 0
Fatalities 0
Survivors 153
Aircraft type Boeing 747–100
Aircraft name Clipper Fortune
Operator Pan American World Airways
Tail number N752PA
Flight origin Brussels Airport
Stopover Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Destination John F. Kennedy International Airport

Swissair Flight 100 (type Douglas DC-8, registration HB-IDD, Nidwalden) was carrying 143 passengers and 12 crew from Zürich-Kloten Airport, Switzerland, to New York. It also landed at Dawson's Field.

Nationalities on Flight 100

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 France 3 0 3
 Germany 25 0 25
 Israel 20 0 20
 Switzerland 57 10 67
 United States 26 0 26
Total 141 10 151

Pan Am Flight 93

Pan American Flight 93 (type Boeing 747, serial 19656/34, registration N752PA, Clipper Fortune) was carrying 136 passengers and 17 crew. The flight was from Brussels, Belgium, to New York, with a stop in Amsterdam. The two hijackers bumped from the El Al flight boarded and hijacked this flight as a target of opportunity.

Boeing 747–100 (N742PA) at Zürich Airport

Flight Director John Ferruggio recalled,

"We were ready for take off in Amsterdam, and the aircraft came to an abrupt stop in the middle of the runway. And Captain Priddy called me up into the cockpit and says, 'I'd like to have a word with you.' I went up to the cockpit, and he says, 'We have two passengers by the name of Diop and Gueye.' He says, 'Go down and try to find them in the manifest, because I would like to have a word with them.' ... So Captain Priddy sat them down at these two seats over here. He gave them a pretty good pat. They had a Styrofoam container in their groin area where they carried the grenade, and the 25-mm pistols. But this we found out much later."[7]

The plane first landed in Beirut, where it refueled and picked up several associates of the hijackers, along with enough explosives to destroy the entire plane. It then landed in Cairo after uncertainty whether the Dawson's Field airport could handle the size of the new Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Flight director John Ferruggio, who led the plane's evacuation, is credited with saving the plane's passengers and crew.[9] The plane was blown up at Cairo seconds after it had been evacuated.[10] An audio transcript of Feruggio's landing instructions to passengers was recorded by one of them and can be heard in a National Public Radio report.[11]

Nationalities on Flight 93

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Belgium 25 0 25
 France 25 0 25
 Germany 10 0 10
Indonesia Indonesia 2 0 2
 Netherlands 35 3 38
 United Kingdom 2 0 2
 United States 20 14 37
Total 138 17 155

BOAC Flight 775

Vickers VC10 Prototype(G-ARTA) in BOAC colours 1962
BOAC Flight 775
Hijacking summary
Date September 9, 1970
Type Hijacking
Site Persian Gulf
Passengers 105
Crew 9
Injuries 0
Fatalities 0
Survivors 114
Aircraft type Vickers VC-10
Operator British Overseas Airways Corporation
Tail number G-ASGN
Flight origin Sahar International Airport
Stopover Bahrain International Airport
Destination London Heathrow Airport

On September 9, a fifth plane, BOAC Flight 775, a VC-10 (registration G-ASGN), from Bombay to London via Bahrain and Beirut was hijacked after departing Bahrain and forcibly landed at Dawson's Field. This was the work of a PFLP sympathizer who wanted to influence the British government to free Leila Khaled.

Nationalities on Flight 775

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 Albania 5 0 5
 Denmark 15 0 15
 France 25 0 25
 Germany 5 0 5
 India 4 0 4
 United Kingdom 25 9 34
 United States 21 0 21
Total 105 9 114


Unnamed passengers later recounted their days as hostages.

Unknown speaker 1: "I was held hostage in the front of the plane by the Arabs. They wouldn't believe that I was an American citizen, because they saw my passport that I was in Israel two weeks before. They thought I was connected with the Israeli military, and I was held at gunpoint in front of the ship."

Unknown speaker 2: "Well, then they were told that we were being hijacked to Beirut, which we, we originally were, and everyone was to remain calm and do exactly what they said."

Unknown speaker 3: "I landed at the airport, we got off, and like they told the captain that we had three minutes to evacuate; but like I didn't, I think there were still a couple of people on board when they blew the, they blew the front part of the plane up. They had dynamited the they had dynamite all over the front and the back of the plane. They brought on 20 kilos of plastic dynamite or something in Beirut."[12]

Days in the desert

On September 7, 1970, the hijackers held a press conference for 60 members of the media who had made their way to what was being called "Revolution Airport." About 125 hostages were transferred to Amman, while the American, Israeli, Swiss, and West German citizens were held on the planes.[13] Jewish passengers were also held. Passenger Rivke Berkowitz of New York, interviewed in 2006, recalled "the hijackers went around asking people their religion, and I said I was Jewish." Another Jewish hostage, 16-year-old Barbara Mensch, was told she was "a political prisoner."[3]

As groups of the remaining passengers and crew were assembled on the sand in front of the media, members of the PFLP, among them Bassam Abu Sharif, made statements to the press. Sharif claimed that the goal of the hijackings was "to gain the release of all of our political prisoners jailed in Israel in exchange for the hostages."[7][14]

United States President Richard Nixon advised a direct military response to the hijackings.

In the United States, President Richard Nixon met with his advisors on September 8 and ordered United States Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird to bomb the PFLP positions in Jordan. Laird refused[citation needed] on the pretext that the weather was unfavorable, and the idea was dropped. The 82nd Airborne Division was put on alert, the Sixth Fleet was put to sea, and military aircraft were sent to Turkey in preparation for a possible military strike.[15] In contrast, British Prime Minister Edward Heath decided to negotiate with the hijackers, ultimately agreeing to release Khaled and others in exchange for hostages. This was bitterly opposed by the United States:

"Tensions between London and Washington are reflected in a bitterly acrimonious telephone conversation between top Foreign Office official Sir Denis Greenhill and senior White House aide Joseph Sisco... 'I think your government would want to weigh very, very carefully the kind of outcry that would occur in this country against your taking this kind of action.' Greenhill replied: 'Well, they do, Joe, but there is also an outcry in this country,' expressing concern that 'Israel won't lift a bloody finger and... our people get killed. You could imagine how bad that would look, and if it all comes out that we could have got our people out but for the obduracy of you and other people so to speak... I mean people say, why the bloody hell didn't you try?'"[16]

On September 9, the United Nations Security Council demanded the release of the passengers, in resolution 286. The following day, fighting between the PFLP and Jordanian forces erupted in Amman at the Intercontinental Hotel, where the 125 women and children were being kept by the PFLP, and the Kingdom appeared to be on the brink of full-scale civil war.[7] The destruction of the aircraft on September 12 highlighted the impotence of the Jordanian government in Palestinian-controlled areas, and the Palestinians declared the city of Irbid to be "liberated territory," in a direct challenge to Hussein's rule.

On September 13, the BBC World Service broadcast a government announcement in Arabic saying that the UK would release Khaled in exchange for the hostages.[17]

According to United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "At this point, whether because [American] readiness measures had given [King Hussein] a psychological lift or because he was reaching the point of desperation, Hussein resolved on an all-out confrontation with the fedayeen."[18]

Complicating the international crisis was the fact that Syria and Iraq, which had links with the USSR, had already threatened to intervene on behalf of Palestinian groups in any confrontation with the Kingdom of Jordan. In an astounding turn of events, according to British documents declassified under the "thirty year rule," an anxious King Hussein asked the US and UK to pass a request to Israel to bomb Syrian troops if they entered Jordan in support of the Palestinians.[17] When a Syrian tank crossed the border, Israeli aircraft overflew the area in warning.

Resolution and consequences

King Hussein declared martial law on September 16 and initiated the military actions later known as the Black September conflict. Hostage David Raab described the Jordanian military actions:

"We were in the middle of the shelling since Ashrafiyeh was among the Jordanian Army's primary targets. Electricity was cut off, and again we had little food or water. Friday afternoon, we heard the metal tracks of a tank clanking on the pavement. We were quickly herded into one room, and the guerrillas threw open the doors to make the building appear abandoned so it wouldn't attract fire. Suddenly, the shelling stopped."[13]

About two weeks after the start of the crisis, the remaining hostages were recovered from locations around Amman and exchanged for Leila Khaled and several other PFLP prisoners. The hostages were flown to Cyprus and then to Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport, where on September 28 they met President Nixon, who was conducting a State visit to Italy and the Vatican.[19] Speaking to reporters that day, Nixon noted he had told the released captives that

"[A]s a result of what they had been through... the possibility of reducing hijackings in the future had been substantially increased, because the international community was outraged by these incidents. Now we have not only mobilized guards on our planes, but we are developing facilities... for the purpose of seeing that people who might be potential hijackers do not get on planes with weapons or explosive material."[20]

During the crisis, on September 11, President Nixon initiated a program to address the problem of "air piracy," including the immediate launch of a group of 100 federal agents to begin serving as armed sky marshals on U.S. flights.[5] Nixon's statement further indicated the U.S. departments of Defense and Transportation would determine whether X-ray devices then available to the military could be moved into civilian service.[21]

The PFLP officially disavowed the tactic of airline hijackings several years later, although several of its members and subgroups continued to hijack aircraft and commit other violent operations.[22]

Documentary film

In 2006, Ilan Ziv described the Dawson's Field hijackings in Hijacked, an hour-long episode of PBS's program American Experience, which he wrote and directed and which originally aired on February 26, 2006. Ziv included archival footage of the events and interviewed hijackers, hostages, members of the media, and politicians.

See also


  1. ^ a b c BBC News, On This Day: 12 September. "Hijacked jets destroyed by guerrillas.". BBC News. September 12, 1970. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/12/newsid_2514000/2514929.stm. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  2. ^ Dawson's Field was named after Air Chief Marshal Sir Walter Dawson Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Air Chief Marshal Sir Walter Dawson refers
  3. ^ a b c Tugend, Tom (2006-02-24). "The Day a New Terrorism Was Born". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California: Jewish Publications). ISSN 0888-0468. OCLC 13450863. http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=15456. Retrieved 2007-11-10. 
  4. ^ a b Public Broadcasting Service website for Hijacked, "The American Hijacker". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/sfeature/sf_american_04.html. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  5. ^ a b c Public Broadcasting Service, Hijacked website, "Flight crews and security.". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/peopleevents/p_crews.html. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  6. ^ Baum, Philip. Aviation Security International September, 2000. "Leila Khaled: In her own words.". Archived from the original on 2006-03-24. http://web.archive.org/web/20060324074350/http://www.asi-mag.com/editorials/leila_khaled.htm. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  7. ^ a b c d Hijacked "Transcript". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/filmmore/pt.html. Retrieved 2006-05-02. 
  8. ^ Hijacked "Timeline and map.". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/maps/map_txt_01.html. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  9. ^ Marquard, Bryan (2010-06-22). "John Ferruggio, at 84; hero of 1970 Pan Am hijacking". Boston Globe. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/obituaries/articles/2010/06/22/john_ferruggio_of_milton_hero_of_1970_pan_am_hijacking_dies_at_84/. Retrieved 2010-06-27. 
  10. ^ "Hijackings: 1970 Year in Review, UPI.com"
  11. ^ "The Skyjacking of 1970". NPR. 2003-09-09. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1426387. Retrieved 2010-09-06. 
  12. ^ "Hijackings: 1970 Year in Review, UPI.com
  13. ^ a b Raab, David. The New York Times Magazine, August 22, 2004. "Remembrance of terror past.". http://www.terrorinblackseptember.com/nytimes.html. Retrieved 2006-05-02. . Reprinted at http://www.terrorinblackseptember.com
  14. ^ Public Broadcasting Service, American Experience, "Hijacked:Journalists and the Hijacking.". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/peopleevents/p_press.html. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  15. ^ Hijacked "People and events.". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/hijacked/peopleevents/e_us.html. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  16. ^ Davis, Douglas. The Jerusalem Post, January 2, 2001. "Declassified documents show how UK gave in to terrorists.". http://www.gamla.org.il/english/article/2001/jan/post1.htm. Retrieved 2006-05-01. 
  17. ^ a b UK Confidential, January 1, 2001 "Black September: Tough negotiations.". BBC News. January 1, 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2000/uk_confidential/1089694.stm. Retrieved 2006-05-02. 
  18. ^ Kissinger, Henry. "Crisis and Confrontation". http://time-proxy.yaga.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,916938,00.html. Retrieved 2006-05-02. . Time Magazine, October 15, 1979.
  19. ^ The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, "Nixon Papers, 1970". http://www.nixonfoundation.org/index.php?src=gendocs&link=papers_1970. Retrieved 2006-05-05. , PDF transcript "Exchange of remarks with released American hostages."
  20. ^ The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, "Nixon Papers, 1970". http://www.nixonfoundation.org/index.php?src=gendocs&link=papers_1970. Retrieved 2006-05-05. , PDF transcript Exchange of remarks with reporters at Leonardo da Vinci Airport about released American hostages. September 28, 1970.
  21. ^ The Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace, "Nixon Papers, 1970". http://www.nixonfoundation.org/index.php?src=gendocs&link=papers_1970. Retrieved 2006-05-05. , PDF transcript "Statement announcing a program to deal with Airplane hijacking" September 11, 1970.
  22. ^ "On This Day, 1972-02-23: Hijackers surrender and free Lufthansa crew". bbc.co.uk. February 23, 1972. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/23/newsid_2518000/2518731.stm. Retrieved 2011-04-11. "It later emerged the hijackers belonged to the PFLP (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and had been paid $500m in ransom." 

Further reading

  • Arey, James A. The Sky Pirates. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972.
  • Carlton, David. The West's Road to 9/11. Resisting, Appeasing and Encouraging Terrorism since 1970. Palgrave Macmillan. April 3, 2006. ISBN 1-4039-9608-3 Cites the Western capitulation to the Dawson's field hijackings as the rise of modern terrorism.
  • Phillips, David. Skyjack: The Story of Air Piracy. London: George G. Harrap, 1973.
  • Raab, David. Terror in Black September: The First Eyewitness Account of the Infamous 1970 Hijackings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 1-4039-8420-4.
  • Snow, Peter, and David Phillips. The Arab Hijack War: The True Story of 25 Days in September, 1970. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971.

External links

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