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Sunday Morning News

Hijack Victims Due to Return to Saudi Arabia Today

Aired October 15, 2000 - 9:44 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 100 people freed from a Saudi plane that was hijacked to Baghdad, Iraq are due to return to Saudi Arabia today. The seven-hour ordeal ended peacefully late yesterday after two Saudi hijackers were taken into Iraqi custody.

CNN's Jane Arraf has been covering this story all along. She joins us now live from Baghdad with the latest.

Hello, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Miles. There's been another hitch in the strange drama that had looked like it was about to end. As dusk falls here in Baghdad, that Saudi plane is still parked on the far end of the runway at Saddam International Airport. And the passengers themselves are still on hold at the government's Rashid hotel where they spent the night.

A member of the Saudi airlines crew says the plane appears to have been delayed by the Iraqi government for security reasons, possibly the possibility of another hijacker who is not in custody. That has not yet been confirmed, but it has been confirmed that those passengers will be staying here for at least a few more hours. The Iraqi government, when it negotiated with the hijackers yesterday after the plane was diverted to Baghdad, originally said it believed there were four. It then produced two Saudis who said they were protesting against repression in their own country.

As for the passengers, many of them believe that it was actually a normal flight to London until they were actually on the ground in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think the word hijack was ever used. We just had a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think to me it was when we landed and I could see all the men running out of the terminal and lining up in front of the terminal. And it looked to me as if they were soldiers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARRAF: Those hijackers are now still in custody. It's not clear what will happen to them. The penalty for hijacking in Iraq is death, but what they're calling for is much the same that President Saddam Hussein has been calling for: for the people to rise up and overthrow the Saudi regime -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jane, I found it interesting that the hijackers were given an opportunity to hold a news conference. What does that say about how they're being treated there in Iraq?

ARRAF: Well, the Iraqi government says it's taking great pains to treat the passengers and crew particularly with traditional Arab hospitality, but that opportunity of a press conference does say that they have a message that's useful to the Iraqi government as well. As I mentioned, President Saddam Hussein here is not a great fan of the Saudi regime. The Saudis and the Iraqis have very strange relations since the Gulf War and have no diplomatic ties. Those relations have been improving recently and this could either be a chance for Iraq to improve them further or see them further deteriorate, depending on where it goes from here -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thanks very much.

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