Sabena Flight 571 - 1972

פורסם ע"י: אירנה ולדימרסקי

Vladimirsky, I. (2012). Sabena Flight 571 (1972). In F. C. Shanty (Ed.), Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger

Sabena Flight 571 (1972)

Irena Vladimirsky

On May 8, 1972, a Boeing 707 airliner belonging to the Belgian Air Company Sabena (Flight 571) was hijacked while en route from Brussels, Belgium, to Tel Aviv, Israel (Katz 2005, 9). The flight, which made a connection in Vienna, Austria, was hijacked by activists of the terrorist group Black September. A group consisting of four terrorists, two males and two females, took control of the aircraft shortly after the plane departed Vienna. One of the terrorists, armed with a handgun, entered the pilot cabin and announced the hijacking. A short statement in both English and Hebrew was transmitted to the passengers.





The terrorists informed the passengers that they had become hostages of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and, depending on the success of the operation, would be either killed or released. The terrorists were armed with two handguns, two hand grenades, and two explosion belts of 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms) each, which were hidden on the bodies of the female terrorists. There were 90 passengers aboard the aircraft, most Israeli citizens, and 10 crew members. The plane landed on one of the spare lanes of Lod Airport (Ben Gurion International Airport) in Israel. One of the terrorists, who introduced himself as Abu Ammar, communicated their demands to the airport control tower. The group demanded that 317 convicted Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel be released immediately; otherwise, the plane and all its passengers would be blown up. Furthermore, they demanded that Israeli officials transfer the prisoners in two airplanes to a PLO headquarters base near Cairo, Egypt.

Israeli officials decided to negotiate with the terrorists, and the captain of the plane, Reginald Levy, was chosen as the negotiation mediator. On the Israeli side negotiations were led by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Transportation Minister Shimon Peres, Commander in Chief of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) David Elazar and Major Generals Ariel Sharon, Rehavam Ze’evi, Israel Tal’, Aharon Yariv, and Mordechai Hod.

The governments of France and Belgium also tried to communicate with representatives of the PLO to have them release the hostages without preliminary conditions. The terrorists agreed to involve representatives of the International Red Cross in the negotiations. During the negotiations Red Cross representatives entered the plane several times to render necessary aid to needy passengers.


While negotiations with the terrorists continued, the Israeli Cabinet decided to launch a rescue operation. A special session of the Israeli government, conducted in the early morning hours on May 9, 1972, approved the beginning of the operation. Late in the evening of May 8, by order of Moshe Dayan, the hijacked aircraft’s hydraulic system was neutralized and air was removed from the planes tires to prevent it from taking off. On the afternoon of May 9, Reginald Levy, the plane’s captain, was sent by the hijackers to the Israeli negotiation team. To demonstrate the seriousness of their intentions the terrorists provided him with samples of the explosive materials they intended to use. Upon returning from his mission Levy informed the terrorists that the Israelis accepted their terms and would send a supply of food and a team of technicians to repair the plane’s damages and let it take off for Cairo. Levy was able to provide the Israelis with exact information on the number of terrorists, the number





of hostages, the type of weapons the terrorists intended to use, and the exact location of the hijackers within the plane. At 4:10 p.m. 16 soldiers of Sayeret Mat’kal, dressed in white uniforms as technicians of El Al Israeli Air Company and under the command of Ehud Barak, approached the plane. Within 12 minutes the commandos took control of the plane and neutralized the terrorists. Three passengers were wounded; later, one of them, Miryam Holtzberg-Anderson, died at Tel Ha-Shomer hospital. The two male terrorists were killed at the scene.


The Sabena hijacking was planned by Ali Hassan Salameh, a Black September activist. The male terrorists had previous experience with plane hijackings. One of them, known as Abu Ammar, had prior knowledge of the aircraft and had participated in the hijacking of an El Al plane to Algeria in 1968 and of a Lufthansa plane to Aden, Yemen, in 1972. The second terrorist, Abdel Aziz, had been involved in PLO hijacking operations in Jordan. The two female terrorists were Therese Halsa, a 19-year-old Israeli citizen from Acre, and Rima Tannous, a 21-year-old from Bethlehem.

Halsa came from a family of Arab Christians and had graduated from an Israeli school. Her desire to join the PLO was influenced by the growing hostility of Jews toward Arabs within and outside of Israel. In November 1971 she crossed the Israeli-Lebanese border and joined the Fatah terrorist organization. For two weeks she underwent intensive training in the terrorist training camp near Beirut, where she learned how to use a handgun, explosion belts, and hand grenades. The hijackers saw each other for the first time the day before the operation. They were supposed to board the plane as two young couples. All four terrorists were provided with forged Lebanese passports and flew to Rome, where they were provided with forged Italian passports. From Italy they flew to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Brussels. In Brussels, they received forged Israeli passports and boarded the plane. The two female terrorists who participated in the Sabena flight hijacking were wounded during the rescue operation, tried before a jury, and sentenced to 220 years imprisonment. Tannous was released seven years later as part of a prisoner exchange agreement between the PLO and Israel. Halsa was released in November 1983 as part of the prisoner exchange between the PLO and Israel following the First Lebanese War of 1982. Halsa is the only surviving participant in this hijacking. She is a mother of three children and lives in Amman, Jordan.


The famous Boeing 707 was reconditioned and used to carry passengers by the Sabena Company for an additional five years. Later it was bought by the Israeli Air Force, and after technical improvements and





reconstruction it was used as a surveillance aircraft. Presently it is located in the museum of the Israeli Air Force at Hatzerim Airbase.

See also:Volume 1, Part II:Israel.Volume 2, Part I:Sayeret Mat’kal (Israel);YAMAS (Israel).Part II:Operation Entebbe (1976)


Katz, Samuel M. Against all Odds: Counterterrorist Hostage Rescues. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group, 2005.

“Kolot milhama: shihrur motos Sabena” [Voices of the war: Sabena airplane rescue]. Nana10 Ltd. [In Hebrew.]

Ma’ariv NRG. “Rak ani ratziti lefotzetz et motos Sabena” [Only I wanted to blow up the plane Sabena]. Last updated February 20, 2008. [In Hebrew.]

Padetzur, Reuven. “Sabena: sipur she haya ve nigmar” [Sabena: The story that was and ended]. HaAretz August 13, 2010. [In Hebrew.]

Reeve, Simon. One Day in September: The Full Story of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and the Israeli Revenge Operation “Wrath of God.” New York: Arcade Publishing, 2011.

Shif, Zeev, and Eitan Haber, eds. Leksikon LeBitakhon Israel. [Security of Israel Lexicon]. Tel Aviv: Israel: Zmura, Beitan, Modan, 1976. [In Hebrew.]




Vladimirsky, Irena. "Sabena Flight 571 (1972)." Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Ed. Frank C. Shanty. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012. ABC-CLIO eBook Collection. Web. 26 Nov 2012.

Chicago Manual of Style

Vladimirsky, Irena. "Sabena Flight 571 (1972)." In Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Edited by Frank C. Shanty. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2012.


Vladimirsky, I. (2012). Sabena Flight 571 (1972). In F. C. Shanty (Ed.), Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. Retrieved from


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