Thursday, October 18, 2012

TFH 10/18: The Day a Mogadishu Operation Went Right

Most Americans properly associate Mogadishu, Somalia with the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (October 3-4) that resulted in the deaths of 18 US servicemen and 74 other casualties - and the Medal of Honor worthy heroism of Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart.

People forget that on October 18, 1977 - thirty-five years ago - Mogadishu was the site of a great victory over the forces of tyranny.

On Tuesday, October 13, 1977, Lufthansa Flight 181, a Boeing 737, departed Palma de Mallorca, Spain en route to Frankfurt, West Germany with a crew of five and 86 passengers...and four terrorists. The terrorists - two men, two women; two Palestinians, two Lebanese - who identified themselves as "Commando Martyr Halime", but really hailed from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization, had smuggled pistols on board and hijacked the plane.

In the wake of the Munich Massacre in September, 1972 - during which the PLFP offshoot Black September murdered 11 Israelis during the Olympic Games - the Germans founded Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (GSG 9) within their Federal Police to prepare for the next attack. This would be their first test.

The PLFP terrorists ordered the Lufthansa captain, Jürgen Schumann, to fly to Larnaca, Cyprus. The plane didn't have enough fuel, and landed in Rome to gas up. While in Rome, the terrorists' demands were released. They sought the release of ten members of the German Marxist-Leninist terrorist group Red Army Faction held in German prisons along with two Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Turkey - and $15 million cash for icing on the cake. Nothing unites terrorists like a hatred of freedom.

After Rome, the plane went to Cyprus, Bahrain, and then Dubai. While in Dubai, the West German government began negotiations to see if GSG 9 would be allowed to assault the aircraft and rescue the hostages. Captain Schumann was able to pass along information about the hijackers to authorities. When the terrorist leader learned of it, he threatened to murder Schumann. The Dubai government eventually gave permission for GSG 9 to land, but the team needed additional preparation time and before they could react, the aircraft left again.

The aircraft was denied permission to land in Oman and headed for Yemen instead. The terrorists allowed Schumann to leave the aircraft briefly to inspect the plane for damage. The terrorist leader, Zohair Youssif Akache, thought the captain had been gone too long (in fact, he had talked with authorities on the ground) and murdered Schumann by shooting him in the head in front of the other captives. Schumann's body was dumped on the tarmac, and the plane took off under the command of its co-pilot, Jürgen Vietor. Destination: Mogadishu.

After Vietor landed the plane at Mogadishu, the terrorists informed him he was no longer needed as they weren't going to fly anywhere else and he could have his freedom and leave the aircraft. Vietor refused: he would not leave his passengers.

Meanwhile, 30 GSG 9 commandos remained at their staging point near Bonn awaiting orders. The Germans began negotiations with the Somali government to allow GSG 9 in to make a rescue attempt. Correctly sensing that time was running short before the terrorists began wholesale murder of the hostages, GSG 9 was ordered to take off and head for Djibouti. En route, the Somalis gave the Germans permission and GSG 9's blacked-out plane (to avoid detection) landed in Mogadishu after dark on October 17 at about 8:00 PM local time.

The terrorists' deadline for acquiescing to their demands was 2:30 AM, October 18. After a final reconnaissance and unloading all their equipment, GSG 9's commander, Ulrich K. Wegener, determined that his men would strike at 2:00 AM. Wegener's plan was called Operation Feuerzauber -"Fire Magic".

Fire Magic's prelude was a fire - Somali forces lit one about 200 feet in front of the aircraft as a diversion. The diversion worked; three of the four hijackers were drawn into the aircraft's cockpit and away from the hostages.

With the terrorists now distracted, the 30 members of GSG 9 rushed the plane from the rear as it was as blind spot. They carried ladders which they used to climb up to the aircraft's doors and emergency exits.

At 2:07 AM, the GSG 9 assault teams penetrated the aircraft simultaneously through all six options - both pairs of front and rear doors and the over-wing emergency exits. As the Germans shouted warnings to the hostages to get down, they were successful in neutralizing the four terrorists: two killed outright and two wounded, one of whom later died. Four of the hostages and one of the GSG 9 commandos were wounded, none seriously.

GSG 9 and the hostages arrived safely back in West Germany at Bonn-Cologne Airport the afternoon of October 18.

Today, GSG 9 is still one of the world's premier anti- and counter-terrorist forces.

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