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After 32 years, FBI relaunches hunt for hijackers of Pan Am Am Flight 73

The FBI has re-launched its search to catch four hijackers of the Pan Am Flight 73.

After 32 years, FBI relaunches hunt for hijackers of Pan Am Am Flight 73

Washington: Nearly two after the release of Sonam Kapoor's critically acclaimed film 'Neerja', based on the real story of a young Indian flight attendant who died trying to save hundreds of passengers, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has re-launched its search for the four hijackers of the Pan Am Flight 73.

The biopic, titled “Neerja,” which showcased the story of Neerja Bhanot, a 23-year-old senior flight purser on Pan Am Flight 73 when four armed men hijacked the plane at Karachi airport on September 5, 1986, was released in 2006.

"No matter how much time has passed or the obstacles we encounter, we owe it to the victims and their families to never give up on them," leading Pakistani daily Dawn quoted an FBI agent as saying on Friday.

The attack, which occurred aboard Pan Am Flight 73 during an airport stopover in Karachi on September 5, 1986, resulted in the death of 20 passengers and crew. 

The victims included citizens of the US, India, Pakistan, Britain, Italy, Denmark, Ireland and Mexico.

The photos and the sketches of the four suspected hijackers - Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain ar-Rahayyal and Muhammad Ahmed al-Munawar – were recently age-progressed by the FBI and released to the media to enable people to identify them.

Since two Americans were among those killed in the failed hijacking attempt, the FBI is legally bound to continue to seek the suspects until they are either brought to the US for trial or their death is confirmed.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has announced a USD 5 million reward for any information leading to their arrest, through its Rewards for Justice Programme.

The four suspects, then believed to be members of terrorist outfit Abu Nidal Organisation, are on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. 

The Pan Am hijacking case is being investigated by the agency's Washington Field Office.

According to the FBI's records, Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki was born on June 21, 1955, in Baghdad; Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim on September 5, 1965, in Lebanon; Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain ar-Rahayyal on November 27, 1965, in Lebanon; and Muhammad Ahmed al-Munawar on May 21, 1965 in Kuwait. 

There were 365 and 16 crew members on the Boeing 747-121 when it arrived at the Karachi airport from Mumbai's Sahar International Airport on September 5, 1986. 

The Pan American World Airways Flight 73 was preparing to leave Jinnah International Airport for Frankfurt, and then to its final destination, John F Kennedy International Airport, New York, when a group of five hijackers seized the plane.

The leader of the group Zayd Hassan Abd al-Latif Masud al-Safarini, also a Palestinian, was a prominent member of the Abu Nidal group.

The 17-hour long hijacking came to an end when the hijackers opened fire on passengers, causing Pakistani commandos to raid the plane. They freed the aircraft and captured the hijackers.

At a trial held in 1988, all of the convicts admitted to having carried out the hijacking and were given death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment.

Safarini was released from prison in Pakistan in 2001 but was arrested a day later by FBI agents in Bangkok on his way to Jordan. In May 2004, a US federal judge in Washington sentenced him to 160 years at Super Max prison in Colorado.

Four other hijackers were released after completing their jail terms and deported to the Palestinian territories. In 2010, news reports claimed that Jamal Saeed Abdul Raheem was killed in a US drone strike on January 9, 2010, in North Waziristan.

The film 'Neerja', made nearly 32 years of the incident, showed how Bhanot helped passengers, including small children and the elderly, escape through the emergency exit, before she was eventually shot dead by one of the gunmen.

According to a citation released by the airline after her death, Bhanot’s “gallant actions were nothing less than heroic” as she along with nearly 400 other passengers and crew members were held hostage for over 16 hours. 

Bhanot was awarded the prestigious Ashok Chakra - the country's highest peacetime military award for bravery after her death. 

“Her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress will forever be a lasting tribute to the finest qualities of human spirit,” said the award’s citation.

(With IANS inputs)