The 4 men appeared normal, their blue attire that of the Algerian Presidential police with Air Algirie logos inscribed. They stepped aboard the Airbus A300, belonging to Air France Flight 8969 as it readied to depart Algiers for Paris with 229 passengers on Christmas Eve, 1994. Moving from aisle to aisle they requested passengers passports. The crew decided to delay departing until the police found what they were looking for.
Yet, despite the businesslike mannerisms of the police, something seemed odd. They were armed. AK47’s slung over shoulders. Unusual, since Algerian police often worked without firearms, and as suspicion began growing amongst those in the plane, the Algerian military authorities, in the midst of fighting a civil war, took no chances and surrounded the aircraft with Special Forces.
“Infidel” burst from the lips of one of the police upon seeing the troops outside, and the men pulled their weapons, announcing their takeover of the plane. The hijackers placed packs of dynamite in the cockpit and under a seat in the middle of the aircraft with the passengers, linking them with detonation cord. They ordered cabin crew members to switch uniforms with them to confuse any snipers trying to target them. They announced over the radio they were chosen by Allah to wage war in his name and that they belong to the Group Islamique Army (GIA or Armed Islamic Group in English), and demanded the release of two members of a banned Algerian political party.
The Algerian interior minister who arrived in the control tower before the terrorists issued demands pled with them to release children and elderly passengers if Algeria were to negotiate. Two hours after the crisis began, the terrorists dropped their demands for release of prisoners and ordered the captain to take off for Paris, where, they said, they would hold a press conference. Algerian authorities refused departure and blocked the runway. GIA’s response was they would detonate the plane unless allowed to leave.