Hijackers threatening to kill 31 hostages aboard a Kuwaiti jet spoke to reporters Saturday at the plane's doorway on the 12th day of the ordeal, demanding fuel because "we do not want the massacre to take place in friendly Algeria."
The hooded hijackers also denounced the assasination of a PLO official in Tunisia and blamed Israel and the United States for the killing.They later met with an Algerian negotiator, and sources close to the talks said terrorists could release two hostages Sunday as a "goodwill gesture to Algeria."
The Algerian went aboard the Kuwait Airways jumbo jet at Houari Boumedienne Airport at 7:25 p.m. (12:25 p.m. MDT) and left about 20 minutes later. Radio traffic monitored between the gunmen and the control tower suggested a deal to exchange at least two hostages for fuel was under discussion and could be realized Sunday.
Earlier, three pool reporters climbed the steps to the doorway of the blue-and-white Boeing 747 and spoke from the platform with three hijackers wearing slit pillowcases over their heads. A hijacker with a machine gun forced the reporters to get on their knees during the news conference.
"We are working to blow up the plane, killing all the Kuwaiti citizens aboard, if the Kuwaiti government does not give freedom to our Kuwaiti brothers," said one hijacker, who spoke for the air pirates. "After the Kuwaiti intransigence, we demand that our Algerian brothers fill the plane with kerosene (sic) so that we may take off and settle our accounts with Kuwait elsewhere."
The Arabic-speaking hijackers are demanding that the Kuwaiti government free 17 extremists jailed in connection with the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies. Kuwait has said it will not give in to the demand.
"Kuwait must know that we do not fear death," the hijacker told the reporters.
The reporters --Youssef Ibrahim of the New York Times, Marie-France Osendao of Agence France Presse and Sid Ali Benmeshish of the Algerian Press Service -- were forced to remain on their knees during the 20-minute exchange that began at 3 p.m.
A hijacker with a machine gun kept guard from inside the plane, while a third hijacker whispered instructions.
"We do not want the massacre to take place in friendly Algeria, which welcomed us and tried to settle the problem in a peaceful way that satisfies us all," the hijacker said.
The gunmen did not set a deadline for refueling the plane. There was no immediate response from the Algerians.
The hijackers seized the jet April 5 during a nonstop flight from Bangkok, Thailand, to Kuwait and took it to Iran, where they freed 57 passengers. In Cyprus, where the plane flew three days earlier, the hijackers killed two Kuwaitis and freed 13 captives before flying to Algiers Wednesday.
The hijackers also made reference to the assassination of Khalil "Abu Jihad" Al-Wazir, the No. 2 man in the Palestine Liberation Organization undre Yasser Arafat. (See story above.)
"We denounce this act by the United States and Israel," the hijacker said of the assassination. "We support our brothers in the Palestinian revolt."