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Cablegate: Update On Highjacking of Sudanese Aircraft to Libya

VZCZCXRO9779
OO RUEHTRO
DE RUEHKH #1305 2401452
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 271452Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1735
INFO RUEHTRO/AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI IMMEDIATE 0367
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO IMMEDIATE 0339

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 001305

DEPT FOR DS/IP/AF, DS/CC, AF/SPG
CAIRO FOR LEGAT

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL PTER EAIR SU LY
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON HIGHJACKING OF SUDANESE AIRCRAFT TO LIBYA

REF: KHARTOUM 1301

1. (SBU) As of 1500 local time, media reports indicted that the
highjackers had released the reported 95 passengers from Sudanese
Sun Air 737 aircraft diverted to Kufra, Libya, (reftel,) but
continued to hold the crew hostage. The highjackers were said to be
demanding fuel to fly the craft to Europe. No group has claimed
responsibility for the highjacking.

2. (SBU) On August 27 poloffs met with Murtada Hassan Gumaa,
Commercial and Executive Director of Sun Air, which operated the
domestic Nylala to Khartoum flight. (Note: The passengers were
released several hours after the meeting. End Note.) Gumaa stated
that while he has had no direct contact with the crew, he had spoken
with the Libyan authorities on site at Kufra airfield. Gumaa, who
spent over two decades in aviation in the United Arab Emirates
before returning to Sudan within the past year, said the Libyans
have been helpful. He expressed confidence in their handling of the
highjacking. "They are determined to resolve this situation on the
ground," he said, and to that end they have refused to refuel the
hijacked plane. He continued that the Libyan negotiator is
experienced and well-versed in crisis situations. He noted that Sun
Air had advised Libyan authorities to seek a peaceful solution and
avoid the use of force at all costs. "The safety of the passengers
and the aircraft itself is paramount," he said, noting that Sun Air
is the only reliable commercial service in and out of Darfur.

3. (SBU) When asked about the circumstances surrounding the
hijacking, Gumaa stated that the responsibility for pre-boarding
screening and airport security measures rests with Sudan's Civil
Aviation Authority. He stated that Sun Air does not have the
authority to search passengers or luggage. But as a result of this
incident, Sun Air already has prepared a letter to the Civil
Aviation Authority requesting permission to take responsibility for
security screening, he said. Gumaa lamented that Sudanese airports
generally have lax security, with numerous unguarded or unsecured
areas. Following this event, however, he said he expected corrective
action would be taken by civil aviation authorities to address these
deficiencies, noting that changes were already being implemented.
Passengers on a Sun Air flight to Juba the morning following the
hijacking were subjected to rigorous screening and identification
checks, he said. He expressed confidence in the capabilities of the
Civil Aviation Authority, characterizing its current leadership as
receptive and flexible. (Note: Wholesale changes were made in the
leadership of Sudan's CAA, following the tragic fire aboard a Sudan
Air aircraft on landing at the Khartoum Airport that took the lives
of 30 people in June. End note.) The current CAA head also comes
from the aviation field, he said, while his predecessor did not.

4. (U) Post will continue to provide updates on this incident,
including the affiliation and motivations of the hijackers, as
information becomes available.

ASQUINO

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