25. Memorandum From the Director of the Office for Combating Terrorism (Isham) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Christopher)1


  • JAL Hijacking

Summary of Developments

0700 hours–1 pm, October 1

At approximately 7 a.m. (EST) hijackers and Mahmood came to a confrontation over the Japanese insistence that all hostages be released in exchange for the six prisoners and the $6 million, with the hijackers insisting that only 57 hostages would be given up in exchange and the balance at the final (undisclosed) destination. After protracted and heated discussions, the hijacked plane unexpectedly moved toward the runway as if to take off.

At this point, Mahmood put into effect what clearly was a prearranged plan by quickly moving trucks, fire engines, and other vehicles on to the runway, blocking the aircraft’s further movement. At this point, four shots were fired by hijackers in the air, presumably to warn off blocking vehicles. That standoff continued for a period of time while Mahmood sought to persuade the hijackers to return their aircraft to its original position.

Throughout this period, Mahmood continued to press his argument that all hostages should be released in exchange for meeting the hijackers’ demands. He argued that the hijackers had more than adequate guarantee of their safety with the plane’s crew of 14. In response, hijackers replied that Japanese Red Army had carried out a “successful” hijacking at Kuala Lumpur, clearly implying they did not intend to accept Mahmood’s proposal and wanted additional hostages as guarantees. (Note: In the Kuala Lumpur incident, Japanese officials and JAL executives offered themselves as substitute hostages for the passengers, a proposal which the terrorists in that incident finally accepted.)2

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Hijackers subsequently moved their aircraft back to its original position and Mahmood embarked on a new proposal for a staged exchange of prisoners and money for hostages. Mahmood’s proposal consists of exchange of one prisoner with $1 million for 10 hostages. The completed exchange would give the kidnappers the 6 Japanese prisoners plus $6 million, while the hijackers would have released 57 hostages. After completion of this operation, more than 70 hostages will remain on the aircraft, plus the plane’s crew of 14. The first stage of this exchange began at approximately 1200 hours, October 1 and the first ten women passengers released were depicted on TV in Dacca.

An unexpected development came at 1040 hours when hijackers released John Gabriel for humanitarian reasons. Gabriel is diabetic, has a prostate condition, and has coronary heart disease. Gabriel is now in Dacca hospital undergoing treatment. He has been visited by Embassy officers and has been examined by Embassy doctor. Embassy reports Gabriel is in some pain but is lucid. Gabriel had been singled out as the first victim in the series of hijackers’ ultimatums.

The most critical phase will occur when the present exchange operation is concluded, and Mahmood resumes efforts to persuade the hijackers to release the remaining passengers in Dacca. Mahmood may surface a proposal for the use of two Japanese officials as substitute hostages for the passengers. We have suggested that the GOJ consider asking the BDG to have one of their officials as a third substitute hostage, to bolster the hijackers’ assurances as to their safety once aloft.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Office of the Deputy Secretary, Warren Christopher, Entry P–14, Lot 81D113, Box 7, Memos to WC from Offices/Bureaus. Confidential. Drafted by John Karkashian (M/CT).
  2. Presumably a reference to an August 1975 incident in Kuala Lumpur when the Japanese Red Army stormed a building and took U.S. and Swedish diplomats hostage. The hostages were exchanged for imprisoned JRA leaders who were flown to Kuala Lumpur on a JAL aircraft.