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Hijacker Hid Weapons in Kids’ Bags

July 6, 2000

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) _ A Syrian desperate to reach Germany hid a pistol and grenade in the bags of his children, ages 5 and 3, as he boarded a Jordanian jetliner on which his brother was also a passenger.

Twenty minutes into the Syria-bound flight, Mahmoud Rizq Deeb walked from the economy class Wednesday night, screamed at a flight attendant and sprayed the aircraft with gunfire, recalled passenger Abeer Bittar, a Syrian-American housewife from New Castle, Pa.

Deeb also tossed a grenade down the aisle, wounding 15 people.

``There was an explosion and panic,″ said Bittar, wounded with shrapnel in her right leg.

Deeb tried to move to the cockpit, but security guards shot and killed him, said Mohammad Asfour, 33, a passenger who was also wounded.

The ordeal aboard Royal Jordanian Airlines flight RJ435 carrying 84 passengers lasted four minutes, Asfour and airport officials said. Security officers routlinely staff Royal Jordanian flights.

A senior security official said questioning of Deeb’s brother, Ayman Deeb, revealed that the would-be hijacker smuggled the grenade and the pistol in his children’s bags and planned, if questioned, to say they were just toys.

Information Minister Taleb Rifai said Deeb, in his mid-30s, planned to hijack the plane to Germany, where he wanted asylum. The German Embassy in Damascus had turned down Deeb’s request for a visa.

Rifai said Deeb was working alone and had no political motive.

Deeb’s family in Tartous, Syria, learned of the incident from a television report. Bahaa Deeb, the younger brother, said Deeb was an auto body repairman and was not close to his family.

``He suffered from anxiety and was not well,″ Bahaa Deeb said.

Nader Dhahabi, chairman of Royal Jordanian Airlines, said the grenade made a hole about 12 inches deep and 10 inches wide, exposing some wiring in the aisle floor.

Damages were minimal because the grenade was old and not powerful, Rifai said.

The aircraft returned safely to Amman after the shootout.

Passengers on the Airbus A320 included Americans, Japanese, Syrians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis and Jordanians. The wounded came from Arab states, though many had dual citizenship, airport officials said.

A senior hospital official said that the 15 suffered light to moderate wounds and some victims had been released.

One Jordanian Cabinet official said Syrian security authorities told Jordan that Deeb had served time in a Syrian jail. He declined to elaborate.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Jordanian planes were the target of terrorist attacks by Palestinian guerrillas critical of the late King Hussein’s moderate policy toward Israel. But recent years have seen no hijacking attempts.

U.S. Ambassador William Burns, whose country last week said it had received threats against its Amman embassy, sent a message of appreciation on Thursday to Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

``Jordan’s actions reflect its strong commitment to continuing to ensure safety and security in the country,″ said the message made available to The Associated Press.

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