FBI Releases Age-Progressed Photos Of 1986 Pan Am Hijackers Who Killed The Brave Flight Attendant, ‘Neerja Bhanot’

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New Delhi:  The US Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday released age processed images of the four accused hijackers charged with the September 5, 1986 attack of Pan American World Airways Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan.

 The flight from Mumbai had landed in Karachi following hijacker’s directions. The attack had left 20 dead including passengers and cabin crew including Indian flight attendant Neerja Bhanot. Around 100 people were wounded in the flight carrying 379 passengers.

The hijackers are Wadoud Muhammad Hafiz al-Turki, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, Muhammad Abdullah Khalil Hussain arRahayyal, and Muhammad Ahmed al-Munawar.

These images were created by the FBI laboratory using age-progression technology and original photographs obtained by the FBI in the year 2000, mentioned a press release from the office.

The four accused, are believed to have been members of the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO), which was previously enlisted by the FBI on their Foreign Terrorist Organisations.

The Department of State Rewards for Justice Programme offers a reward of up to USD 5 million each for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of the alleged hijackers.

The accused however, continue to be on the list of FBI's most wanted terrorists.

1986 Hijack Of Pan Am Flight 73:

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On the morning of September 5, 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 landed in Karachi. It had arrived from Mumbai and, had nothing gone wrong, would have departed for Frankfurt and onward to New York City. The flight was carrying, among members of other nationalities, Indians, Germans, Americans, and Pakistanis.

Unfortunately, the flight was hijacked while it was parked on the tarmac at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi.

Five members belonging to Abu Nidal terrorist organisation dressed up as airport security guards and seized control of the New York-bound flight before it could take off from Jinnah International Airport in Karachi for Frankfurt Airport in Germany.

Neerja, then only 23 years old was riddled with bullets as she helped passengers out of the emergency exits. Survivors’ accounts of the incident only add more credit to Neerja’s undaunting valour.

The hijacking operation ended when the hijackers ran out of bullets around 16 hours later.

This incident resulted in the killing of 20 passengers and crew, including two Americans, the attempted murder of 379 passengers and crew, and the wounding of more than 100 persons on board.

The five terrorists of Palestinian origin-Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini, Mohammed Abdul Khalil Hussain, Daud Mohammed Hafiz, Mohammed Ahmed al-Munawar and Jamal Saeed were all arrested by Pakistani security forces.

Here’s What Happened to the Hijackers of Neerja’s Pan Am Flight 73 after that:

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

Twenty passengers were killed in the incident among the 380 and the Indian government awarded the young Neerja Bhanot with the Ashok Chakra award.

But thirty years after the unfortunate took place, not much is known about the hijackers.

An Associated Press report from 2009 states that while four men were released after completing their jail terms and deported to the Palestinian territories against the wishes of both the Indian and the United States government.

Although there are some discrepancies regarding the report with some claiming that the four men escaped.

The alleged leader of the operation Zayd Safarini was released from prison in Pakistan in 2001 after a series of amnesties. He was, however, arrested a day later by FBI agents in Bangkok on his way to Jordan.

In 2003, Zayd Safrini pleaded guilty to 95 charges which included murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder among other. The trial was attended by at least half a dozen of survivors.

According to another AP report from 2003. Although Safrini’s crime amounted to capital punishment, a plea bargain filed by Safrini helped him escape his death sentence.

US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan approved the plea bargain and dropped the death penatly in exchange for a guilty plea, for which Safrini would receive three consecutive life sentences worth 160 years. This seriously limited his chances of getting parole.

He was also sent to the Super Max federal prison in Colorado where he would have to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

Zayd Safrini disappeared from news reports soon after the trial. After that, in 2010, news reports claimed that one of five terrorists, Jamal Saeed Abdul Raheem was killed in a suspected US drone strike conducted on 9 January 2010 in North Wazirstan Agency, a tribal region of Pakistan.

That was the last of any information on the men who orchestrated the tragedy that took place on 5 September 1986.

 

People came to know about the incident  really after the attack was chronicled into a movie by Ram Madhvani with Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor played the brave flight attendant, Neerja Bhanot. Bhanot was head of the cabin crew and her brave act is said to have saved several lives.

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But still if anybody doesn’t already know about the brave Neerja Bhanot who sacrificed her life in trying to save the passengers of the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73, they probably do by now.

Neerja Bhanot, A Lady Worth Remembering:

Neerja Bhanot, 7 September 1963 – 5 September 1986,was a purser for Pan Am, based in Mumbai, India:  She was born in Chandigarh, India, the daughter of Rama Bhanot and Harish Bhanot, a Mumbai-based journalist.

She received her early schooling at Sacred Heart Sen. Sec. School, Chandigarh till class 5. After moving to Mumbai, she completed her schooling in Bombay Scottish School and continued to St. Xavier's College, Mumbai.

It was in Mumbai, where she was first spotted for a modelling assignment which helped her modelling career to take off. Bhanot applied for a flight attendant job with Pan Am 73, when it decided to have an all Indian crew for its Asian clients, and upon selection, went to Miami for training as a flight attendant but returned as purser.

 

She was unfortunately murdered while saving passengers from terrorists on board a hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on 5 September 1986,  less than 25 hours before her 23rd birthday.

After the terrorists boarded the plane, Neerja alerted the cockpit crew, who escaped through an overhead hatch in the cockpit. As the senior-most crew member remaining on board, this left Neerja in charge. One of the terrorists asked the flight crew to collect and hand over the passports of all passengers on board. When Neerja realised that the primary targets of the terrorists were American passengers, she hid their passports – even discarding some of them down the rubbish chute. From a total of 41 American passengers, only 2 were killed.

After holding passengers and crew members hostage for 17 hours on the runway, the terrorists opened fire. Neerja stayed on the plane to help passengers escape, even though she could have been the first to leave. She was shot while shielding three children from the bullets being fired by the terrorists.

Most of us will never find ourselves in a high-pressure situation, facing life or death the way Neerja did. True bravery emerges in the face of fear.

We might never know what Neerja was thinking or feeling during those terrible hours of the hijacking, but we do know that she chose to respond to the actions of the terrorists with exceptional grace, courage, and grit. 

Despite their irreplaceable loss, her parents, Rama and Harish Bhanot, soldiered on, and even found a fitting way to honour Neerja’s memory. With the insurance money that they received after her death and an equal contribution from Pan Am, they set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust.

Through the Trust, they present two awards of Rs. 1,50,000 every year – one to an Indian woman who faces social injustice but overcomes it and helps other women in similar situations, and one to honour an airline crew member who acts beyond the call of duty.

There could hardly have been a better way to keep Neerja’s memory alive.

For her actions on the day of the hijacking, Neerja Bhanot was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime military decoration for the “most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent valour or self-sacrifice”, and the Tamgha-e-Insaniyat, awarded by the Pakistan government for showing incredible kindness.

She also posthumously received multiple awards for her courage from the United States government.

 

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References:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

https://www.in.com

https://www.thequint.com

https://www.thebetterindia.com