Airport Shootings the Bad Old Days

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These days, with all of the increased airport security since 9-11, you would think an airport in the US is the safest place in the world. Well a nutcase at LAX this week proved otherwise. Firearms Talk gives you a look at how it used to be.

Lod Airport Massacre

Over forty years ago in 1972, a team of three Japanese terrorists, members of the Japanese Red Army Faction went on a shooting spree at Lod Airport in Israel. These Asian born radicals were loaned out to the PFLP, a Palestinian group who believed (correctly) that Asians would be less likely stopped by Israeli security.

They carried Czech Vz58 assault rifles provided to the PFLP by the North Koreans. These guns, along with spare magazines were secreted in violin cases. When the shooting stopped, 26 lay dead and another 79 injured. Two of the three terrorists were killed that day and the third, injured, served 13 years in an Israeli prison. In 1978, the Mossad rubbed out the Palestinian ideas man who planned the attack for his troubles.

In 2012, a group of lawyers won a $378 million lawsuit against the North Korean government for their part in this crime.

1970s Hijackings

Airliner hijackings peaked around the same time as the Lod Massacre. Between 1968 and 1977, the annual average number of aircraft hijacked in the world was 41 per year. Since then the number of hijacking incidents have fallen to 'just' 18 per year on average around the globe.

In 1970 Palestinian gunmen forced four planes with a total of 400 people on board to fly to the Jordanian desert, where the hijackers blew up the aircraft after releasing most of the hostages in exchange for seven Palestinian prisoners. This, remembered as the Dawson's Field hijackings, led to the creation of the Federal Air Marshal program by President Nixon.

However, airliners will always be under the threat of hijackings as witnessed by the events on September 11, 2001 when four jetliners were diverted by 19 international terrorists in the United States and flown into high value targets.

This led to the TSA and an increase in the Federal Air Marshal Program. The first screens passengers for weapons and the second rides shotgun so to speak with armed agents on selected aircraft. Last year alone, unarmed TSA screeners found more than 1500 firearms on would-be passengers on US flights.

Rome and Vienna

Moving to attack Israeli targets in Europe, a team of seven members of the Abu Nidal Organization attacked two separate airports at the same time. Four gunmen went to the Israeli El Al Airlines ticket window at Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome while another three went to the El Al counter at Vienna. Coordinating their attacks, both went loud at 0915 27 December 1985.

Firing Syrian supplied Soviet-made AKM assault rifles and lobbing hand grenades, the terrorists killed 19 civilians and injured another 138. The high injury rate is due to the fragmentation grenades filling the air with shrapnel. Four of the gunmen were killed, the other three captured. These captured ANO mercenaries (Abu Nidal was more hitman that idealist) got 30 year sentences.

A few years ago, a group of western lawyers won a $25-billion judgment against the Syrian Arab Republic, Syrian Air Force Intelligence, and General Muhammed Al-Khuli for their state sponsorship and involvement in these airport massacres. Like the North Korean judgment, it will likely never be paid.

Increased Security

After these three incidents, there was a massive increase in security in both US and European airports. In Europe, this came in the form of local police and in some cases military police armed and equipped to get in a close quarter battle with a small group of armed terrorists. If you have ever flown into a quiet, immaculately clean European airport and seen cops armed to the teeth with HK burp guns and 5.56mm rifles, it's because of Lod, Rome, and Vienna.

In the US, these three attacks led most airports, especially large ones with regular international flights, to create dedicated Airport Police forces. These forces range from small 10-person departments at single terminal airports to the immense 1100-member (not a misprint) Los Angeles Airport Police Department. The LAAPD is, in fact, the largest police agency in the United States dedicated exclusively to 24-hour airport activities. This department responded to the latest airport active shooter.

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November 6, 2013  •  01:28 PM
I once worked for an export company, and sold USA made products (when USA was still manufacturing in the USA) to customers all over the world. Our VP was Jewish, and since he spoke Hebrew, he covered Israel for us, from our NY office and would go to Tel Aviv, Israel, to follow up on big quotes, and get new business for us. This was in the 1980s, after all of the hi-jackings of the 1970s. I asked him," are you not afraid of airport violence?"...He said..." in Israel, the army walks about public areas, looking for possible terrorists. All the Army personnel carry machine guns. IF some terrorist started something, he would be shot down, dead, in seconds"..."No" he said.."I am not afraid to travel in Israel".He also told me about the security precautions that El Al (Israels national airline) used. You would check in. You would be asked questions,who you were...why are you traveling to Israel today, etc. IF you appeared nervous or hesitant, or your answers did not match your papers, you were taken for a strip search and interrogation. They would ask you the same questions two more times, before allowing you to approach the boarding gate. Again, if there was any deviation,problem, you went off to interrogation and a 100% search. I have traveled in the USA after 9-11-01. I must say, I do not feel that the TSA provides the same security, nor any where near the same professionalism as El Al/Israel provides . I would like to see at least ONE ARMED security person at each screening entrance to avoid another shooting like we just witnessed at LAX..