Plane hijacked by Japanese Red Army and landed in Dhaka
On 28 September 1977 a group of Japanese Red Army (JRA) terrorists hijacked Japan Airlines (JAL) Flight 472 while it was flying from Paris to Tokyo and forced it to land in Dhaka. The Douglas DC-8, en route from Paris to Haneda Airport in Tokyo with 156 passengers on board, had made a stopover in Mumbai (then Bombay), India. Shortly after taking off from Mumbai, five armed JRA members hijacked the aircraft and ordered it to fly to Dhaka. At Dhaka's Tejgaon airport, the hijackers took the passengers and crew hostage. The reason given for the hijacking by the JRA was the detention and killing by torture of comrade Hidaka by the regime of Jordan.
The JRA was a communist militant group who gained notoriety for slaughtering 12 of their own members in a training camp hideout on Mount Haruna. The Japanese hijackers had headed to what they thought was an "independent, Islamic, and popular" Bangladesh, which would be sympathetic to their cause. They were unaware that a series of coups since its independence from Pakistan had resulted in a martial rather than a democratic government.
In a bold move Bengali Air Vice Marshall A. G. Mahmud, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, then Aviation Minister of the Bangladesh government and one of the country's three Deputy Chief Martial Law Administrator (thus making him the third most powerful person in the military regime), began negotiating with the JRA spokesman on the plane codenamed 'Danke'. While Mahmud was trying to convince the hijackers from the Dhaka's control tower to release passengers, the hijackers were dictating their own terms. They demanded $6 million and release of 9 imprisoned JRA members.
- A. G. (Abdul Gaffar) Mahmud ()
Initially negotiations proceed civilly and Danke, in a rather distinct Japanese way, was often very formal but polite. There was a halting rhythm of the exchange between the two negotiators - possibly due to the fact that English was not the mother tongue of neither man.
Danke: "Respecting you, we have able to discuss in our unit and we have reached conclusion that is we cannot release all passengers. It is impossible because of our principle. First principle is we must have guarantee to protect the aircraft and lives of the crew and ourselves. Remember why we landed here - we thought the Bangladesh government is independent, Islamic, and popular government and we believe that you could help us and you could be a representative between the Japanese regime and us".
Mahmud: "Danke, you've taken too long to give me a simple answer. We have a lot of work to do together. I will request you please answer questions simply by 'yes' or 'no' so that I can quickly do all things required to help you solve the problem so that you can take off for your destination".
The relationship between these two strangers is one of power and trust.
But this changed dramatically when on 1 October 1977 a JAL plane arrived from Japan with the $6 million cash demand and 6 out of the 9 detainees. The then Japanese Prime Minister, Takeo Fukuda, announced that the Japanese government would accept the hijackers' demands on principle that "human life is more important than the world". A chartered JAL flight carried the money and the detainees to Dhaka, where the exchange took place on 2 October 1977. The hijackers released 118 passengers and crew members.
Tensions rise. The voices of Danke and Mahmud become agitated, angry and distorted through exhaustion after three days of intense negotiation. Their communication is tense and cautious, as so much depends on it. Each side appeared to be bluffing the other side. There was confusion and a long silence from Danke.
The crackly voices of these two strangers hurled into a forced, awkward intimacy with contemporaneous news and television footage... the tone with which they started their discussion was peculiarly polite, until the accord between ransom and reason reached breaking point.
Shuman Bashar, Reviewer
The style is minimalist and the conversations, at once polite and piercingly hostile, vividly reveal a political stalemate unfolding with more intrigue and surprise as any TV drama.
The plane attempted to takeoff but was blocked by the Bengalis. Strange activity was seen by the plane and Mahmud tells Danke "if I tell you these people are not mine you can kill them". This senseless remark seemed out of context. What did Vice Marshall Mahmud mean by this statement? What was happening here?
In the meantime, the hijackers forced the plane to take off and on 3 October 1977 flew to Kuwait City and Damascus, where they released 11 more hostages. Finally, the aircraft was flown to Algiers (capital of Algeria) where the authorities impounded it and the remaining hostages were freed. All the hijackers were finally captured over the next 20 years.
The whole nail-biting episode was played out live on Bangladesh's national TV, BTV, in front of a captivated audience. An unprecedented media event for the young nation of Bangladesh, whose broadcast capabilities at the time were rudimentary at best, the airplane drama dragged on for days and proved utterly riveting.
According to the filmmaker [Naeem Mohaiemen], until this incident, BTV used to have four-hour transmission everyday. To provide live coverage, the Japanese Embassy apparently gave BTV necessary equipments. So, in a way this was a landmark for our TV.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
The incident contrasted Europe and the United States' approach of non-negotiation with terrorists to Japan's approach of appeasing terrorists if necessary. Shortly after the incident, Japan's National Police Agency established a Special Assault Team to deal with future acts of terrorism.
'United Red Army' documentary
Bengal visual artist Naeem Mohaiemen was only 8 years old when the hijacking was taking place. He recollects feeling frustrated as his favourite TV spy show "The Zoo Gang" was 'rudely' interrupted by pre-emptive live coverage of the hostage-taking. That’s all Naeem really remembers from the 1977 standoff. However, since 2006 Naeem has been working on 'The Young Man Was', a history of the 1970s 'ultra-left', using essays, photography, and film.
- Naeem Mohaiemen ()
On 20 October 2011 Naeem directed and anchored a 67-minute short documentary called 'United Red Army' as the first part in a proposed trilogy. He collected archived original audio recordings between the Japanese hijackers and Bangladeshi negotiators in the airport control tower since the Bengali news footage of the hijacking no longer exists. Most of the documentary is dedicated to the intense and chilling exchanges and the crackly marathon radio conversation is presented with colour-coded transcription. On a dark background the green on-screen text is that of Air Vice Marshall A. G. Mahmud, the red that of JRA's Danke and the white text is that of the Bengali negotiating team in the airport control tower unheard by the JRA. The documentary also contains occassional Bengali black-and-white grainy video footage of the event and clips from US and Japanese media coverage.
Mohaiemen interrupts the negotiations to take a trip back to his own living room, where he followed the events as an eight-year-old, hoping it would end so he could watch his favorite TV show. The drama, dragged out for days, seemed a eternity for the little boy awaiting the return of his beloved show.
The movie has been screened in a number of universities and cultural venues across Bangladesh. In 2012 United Red Army had a World Premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto and a European Premiere at IDFA. It has also shown at various museums, including the Sharjah Biennial in UAE, The New Museum in New York and as part of a conference at Tate Modern in London.
The director Naeem Mohaiemen’s use of the real negotiation process was formidable. He did not create any imaginary scene for the movie to illustrate the negotiation.
New Age BD (Bangladesh)
The tension and drama that builds from the clipped verbal exchanges speaks volumes, escalating from polite courtesy to mortal threat. Part 1 is an experimental suspense story that relies on the sound of disembodied voices to convey the negotiations and tenuous alliance between the Japanese Red Army’s rogue rebels and the Bangladeshi military government.
Bangladesh is at this time a military dictatorship. Mahmud’s voice is precise and quasi-hypnofying. The exchanges between Danke and Mahmud are riveting. Communication and negotiation runs as smoothly and calmly as one could ever possibly expect in this situation where Danke continually threatens to execute passengers one by one. When there are no visuals, as often happens in the film, your imagination is left only to construct the picture that might be on the screen...Quite rightly said, this film is about killers talking to killers.
The Metropolitan (Canada)
Excavating and dissecting the interwoven histories of failed leftist revolutionary movements of the 1970s - both in his native Bangladesh and around the world - Mohaiemen extracts episodes from their complicated trajectories as the tremendous promise of collective utopian aspirations gave way to exhaustion, misguided violence, and failed attempts at nation building.
All seems to end relatively well until Director Mohaiemen narration explains that during the 80-hour long airplane-hostage crisis, a group of Bangladeshi officers attempted another coup at the airport - with events unfolding before the hijackers and the hostages. The Japanese hijacking provided an ideal opportunity for the "disgruntled elements" within the armed forces to stage an insurrection.