Here’s What Happened to the Hijackers of Neerja’s Pan Am Flight 73

30 years after Neerja Bhanot died saving passengers of Pan Am Flight 73, not much is known about the hijackers.

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If anybody doesn’t already know the story of the brave Neerja Bhanot who sacrificed her life in trying to save the passengers of the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73, they probably do by now, after the much-talked-about biopic Neerja was released on February 19.

Five members belonging to Abu Nidal terrorist organisation dressed up as airport security guards and seized control of the New York-bound flight before it could take off from Jinnah International Airport in Karachi for Frankfurt Airport in Germany.

Neerja, then only 23 years old was riddled with bullets as she helped passengers out of the emergency exits. Survivors’ accounts of the incident only add more credit to Neerja’s undaunting valour.

The hijacking operation ended when the hijackers ran out of bullets around 16 hours later.

The five terrorists of Palestinian origin-Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini, Mohammed Abdul Khalil Hussain, Daud Mohammed Hafiz, Mohammed Ahmed al-Munawar and Jamal Saeed were all arrested by Pakistani security forces.

30 years after Neerja Bhanot died saving passengers of  Pan Am Flight 73, not much is known about the hijackers.
A man, said to be one of the four Pan Am hijackers, is cuffed as he is brought to a police car, at Karachi airport, Pakistan, Friday, Septemper 5, 1986. (Photo: AP)

At a trial held in 1988, all of the convicts admitted to having carried out the hijackings and were given death sentences that were later commuted to life imprisonment.

Twenty passengers were killed in the incident among the 380 and the Indian government awarded the young Neerja Bhanot with the Ashok Chakra award.

But thirty years after the unfortunate took place, not much is known about the hijackers.


An Associated Press report from 2009 states that while four men were released after completing their jail terms and deported to the Palestinian territories against the wishes of both the Indian and the United States government.

Although there are some discrepancies regarding the report with some claiming that the four men escaped.

The alleged leader of the operation Zayd Safarini was released from prison in Pakistan in 2001 after a series of amnesties. He was, however, arrested a day later by FBI agents in Bangkok on his way to Jordan.

30 years after Neerja Bhanot died saving passengers of  Pan Am Flight 73, not much is known about the hijackers.
Bloodstain is seen on one of the wings of the Pan Am jetliner on the Karachi Airport, Pakistan on 6 September 1986. (Photo: AP)

In 2003, Zayd Safrini pleaded guilty to 95 charges which included murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder among other. The trial was attended by at least half a dozen of survivors.

According to another AP report from 2003.

Safarini’s case was the first in which federal prosecutors had sought the death penalty for a hijacker.

Although Safrini’s crime amounted to capital punishment, a plea bargain filed by Safrini helped him escape his death sentence.

US District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan approved the plea bargain and dropped the death penatly in exchange for a guilty plea, for which Safrini would receive three consecutive life sentences worth 160 years. This seriously limited his chances of getting parole.

He was also sent to the Super Max federal prison in Colorado where he would have to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

A CNN report states that Judge Sullivan clearly sided with the victims. At the trial Sullivan said to Safrini,

You are a coward and cold-blooded murderer. This is better than you deserve.
30 years after Neerja Bhanot died saving passengers of  Pan Am Flight 73, not much is known about the hijackers.
Unidentified passengers from the hijacked Pan Am airliner sit in an official government truck being brought to the local Jinnach hospital for medical treatment in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday, September 6, 1986. (Photo: AP)

Safrini reportedly addressed the court and expressed remorse first in Arabic and then in perfect English.

I am so sorry at what happened, so very very sorry. I take the responsibility for all the pain. My sorrow is from the depth of my heart. If you do not believe I am a person who has a heart, I accept that. I wish I had died on that plane. I am suffering ... I sit in my cell. I have no hope. No feeling. I known I will die by myself, that I will never see my family again.  
Zayd Safrini, Convict in Pan Am Flight 73 Hijacking case

Zayd Safrini disappeared from news reports soon after the trial.

In 2010, news reports claimed that one of five terrorists, Jamal Saeed Abdul Raheem was killed in a suspected US drone strike conducted on 9 January 2010 in North Wazirstan Agency, a tribal region of Pakistan.

That was the last of any information on the men who orchestrated the tragedy that took place on 5 September 1986.

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