1. [A]n Algerian group hijacked an airliner in 1994, ... possibly to crash it into the Eiffel tower” (345). The airplane was hijacked in Algiers. But since the distance from Algiers to Paris is less than the distance across the United States, there might have been less time to intercept it than is available to intercept a plane hijacked within this country. It would, therefore, not take much imagination to transfer the scenario to the United States.
The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions
David Ray Griffin
Unfortunately this text leaves out some key details. Here’s the bit of that sentence Dr Griffin cut out (in bold, our emphasis), and a footnote relating to the report:
an Algerian group hijacked an airliner in 1994, most likely intending to blow it up over Paris, but possibly to crash it into the Eiffel Tower.
9/11 Commission Report
Footnote #14 to Chapter 1:
...The Algerian hijackers had placed explosives in key areas of the cabin. However, there was some speculation in the media based on reports from a passenger aboard the plane that the hijackers had discussed crashing it into the Eiffel Tower...
And here’s more about how the hijack started:
The hostage drama began on Christmas Eve as Air France Flight 8969 prepared for a scheduled 11:15 a.m. departure for Paris. Most of the 227 passengers had settled into their seats in an almost festive mood, as they looked forward to joining family and friends for the holidays. The boarding of four armed men in blue uniforms with Air Algerie identification badges caused no alarm. Explaining they were security agents, the men proceeded to check the passengers' passports. Then they suddenly closed and locked the doors. "I knew it was a hostage taking when they shouted, 'Allah is great!' " recalled a 40-year-old Algerian-born mechanic now living in France. "I thought of my children back in France, and I became afraid. Three men entered the cockpit, the fourth covered us with his Kalashnikov. No one budged. Then the waiting started."
This situation began as a hijack on the ground, then, which is where the plane remained for more than a day. When the plane did take off, it was under the control of the regular crew. The hijackers were fooled into permitting a landing in Marseilles, under the guise of a refuelling stop, where the plane was stormed and the hostages freed.
This is clearly a very different situation to 9/11, then. The hijack was of the conventional type; the terrorists were never going to fly the plane; interception or shooting down the plane wasn’t an issue at any time; and there’s no certainty that the flight was to be used as a missile, either.
You might still say that it should have bought attention to the possibilities of hijacking, but even that isn’t necessarily true, as this article from 1995 suggests:
Instead of waiting for a spy to discover a terrorist plot and pass this information on to the appropriate authorities, the aviation security system should be designed to prevent acts and deter threats. Failure to implement such a system can have disastrous results. The December 1994 hijacking of an Air France flight from Algeria is a case in point. Anyone who has monitored the front page of a major newspaper during 1994 would recall that Algeria has been wracked for several years by a wave of terrible terrorist violence. Much of this violence has been carried out by radical Islamic groups bent on ousting a secular government. Notwithstanding the violence, the French adopted the traditional approach to aviation security by relying on Algerian authorities to maintain the appropriate level of security. This approach left 170 passengers and crew vulnerable to the events that ensued on December 24.
Four hijackers affiliated with the Armed Islamic Group, disguised as airport security officials, took over the Air France crew. After killing three passengers, including a French citizen, the hijackers were allowed to take off and subsequently land in Marseilles, France on December 26. As the situation continued to deteriorate French commandos stormed the plane, rescued the passengers and crew, and killed the hijackers. The world was aghast when it learned the hijackers had placed explosives on board the plane, intended to blow it up in the air above Paris. Only in the aftermath of the hijacking and narrowly averted aerial kamikaze assault on Paris did French security officials tighten security on flights between Algeria and France and assert their right to monitor Algerian and the airline compliance.
The world can no longer run the risk, as did France in Algeria, of a security system hastily put together in reaction to specific incidents. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s a surge aircraft hijackings within the United States prompted the introduction of walk through metal detectors at U.S. airports. Requiring preboard security screening led subsequently to a dramatic reduction of domestic hijackings by individuals who had smuggled guns on board aircraft. We did not see a similar decline in international hijackings, at least initially, because neither the United States nor the airlines could unilaterally force other countries to adopt these security measures. In the wake of the 1986 hijacking of Pan Am 73, which resulted in the deaths of 22 people and injuries to more than 125, the FAA tightened security screening procedures for U.S. air carriers operating internationally. Since 1986 no U.S. air carriers have been hijacked because a terrorist defeated the preboard passenger screening process.
Here poor airline security in Algeria is held responsible for the hijacking, while in comparison the US is applauded (although please go read the rest of the above article, because there’s also criticism and interesting suggestions later). And if this could be blamed on Algeria, then the US may have been less likely to see it as a story relevant to them.
In any event, we’d suggest this falls a long way short of establishing a clear or credible precedent for 9/11-type attacks.