Hijacking is the assumption of control of a vehicle through some means of coercion, often the threat of violence. The two most prevalent forms of hijacking are of aircraft and automobiles. The motivations of these crimes differ greatly based on what is being hijacked, with the hijacking of planes often being politically motivated, while carjackers are usually financially motivated. Aircraft hijacking (also known as skyjacking and aircraft piracy) is the take-over of an aircraft, by a person or group, usually armed. The first recorded incident was in March 1912, and since then, there have been many larger, more destructive hijackings, including the September 11, 2001 attacks which led to the death of over 3,000 innocent people.
While law enforcement and international efforts have been made to increase security and reduce such threats, the ultimate solution to the problem of hijacking is to resolve the issues that drive the perpetrators to commit these crimes. Perpetrators who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in suicide missions will not be deterred by the threat of any kind of punishment, nor will they cease because of security measures taken in response to previously carried out actions. The solution to hijacking is not specific to the act but to the underlying problems of human suffering.
The term hijacking arose in connection with the seizing of liquor trucks during Prohibition in the United States. This usage in reference to commandeering vessels laden with valuable goods remains prevalent.
The first known carjacking took place on the open road in March 1912. The word carjacking is a portmanteau of car and hijacking. The Bonnot Gang targeted a luxury Dion Bouton in the Senart forest between Paris and Lyon, France. The armed chauffeur and young secretary in the vehicle were killed.
The first recorded aircraft hijack was on February 21, 1931, in Arequipa, Peru. Byron Rickards, flying a Ford Tri-Motor, was approached on the ground by armed revolutionaries. He refused to fly them anywhere and after a ten day stand-off Rickards was informed that the revolution was successful and they would release him in return for flying one of their number to Lima. Most hijackings have not been so farcical.
The first attempted hijack of a commercial airliner reportedly happened on July 16, 1948, when a failed effort to gain control of the Miss Macao, a seaplane of a Cathay Pacific subsidiary company, caused it to crash into the sea off Macau. On June 30, 1948, a Bulgarian commercial Junkers plane was successfully hijacked to Istanbul by a discharged diplomat and his family, who had to shoot dead the co-pilot (who happened to be the head of Bulgaria's civil aviation) and the radio operator in order to escape to the West.
The first state-hijacking of an airplane was Israel's hijacking of a Syrian airways civilian jet in 1954, with the intent "to obtain hostages in order to obtain the release of our prisoners in Damascus," who had been captured spying in Syria. Prime Minister Moshe Sharett accepted the "factual affirmation of the U.S. State Department that our action was without precedent in the history of international practice."
Since 1947, sixty percent of hijackings have been refugee escapes. In 1968-1969 there was a massive rise in the number of hijackings. In 1968 there were 27 hijackings and attempted hijackings to Cuba. In 1969 there were 82 recorded hijack attempts worldwide, more than twice the total attempts from the 1947-1967 period. At that time, Palestinians were using hijacks as a political weapon to publicize their cause and to force the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoners from jail.
Airliner hijackings have declined since the peak of 385 incidents between 1967-1976. In 1977-1986 the total had dropped to 300 incidents and in 1987-1996 this figure was reduced to 212.
Carjackers often act when drivers are stopped at intersections, stop lights, signs, or highway entry points. They take advantage of the stopped car to threaten the driver and assume control of the vehicle.
In most cases of airplane hijacking, the pilot is forced to fly according to the orders of the hijackers. Alternatively one of the hijackers can fly the plane himself, as was the case in the September 11, 2001 attacks; hijackers took flying lessons as preparation, or were selected by Al-Qaeda based partly on flying skills. In one case the official pilot hijacked the plane: In October, 1998, on an Air China flight from Beijing to Kunming in Yunnan, he flew to Taiwan after threatening to crash the plane, killing the passengers, if other members of the crew prevented him from flying to Taiwan.
Unlike the hijacking of land vehicles or ships, skyjacking is usually not perpetrated in order to rob the cargo. Rather, most aircraft hijackings are committed to use the passengers as hostages in an effort to obtain transportation to a given location, to hold them for ransom, or, as in the case of the American planes that were hijacked to Cuba during the 1960s and 1970s, the release of comrades being held in prison. Another common motive is publicity for some cause or grievance.
Hijackings for hostages have usually followed a pattern of negotiations between the hijackers and the authorities, followed by some form of settlement—not always the meeting of the hijackers' original demands—or the storming of the aircraft by armed police or special forces to rescue the hostages. Since the use of hijacked planes as suicide missiles in September 11, 2001 attacks, hijacking has become a different kind of security threat—though similar usages had apparently been attempted by Samuel Byck in 1974 and on Air France Flight 8969 in 1994. Prior to September, 2001, the policy of most airlines was for the pilot to comply with hijackers' demands in the hope of a peaceful outcome. Since then, policies have reversed course, in favor of arming and armoring the cockpit.
Though not all hijackings are terrorism related, there exists a connection between the two. The most infamous example of this connection is the September 11, 2001 attacks executed by al Qaeda in which over 3,000 people were killed between the passengers and the targets into which they were flown. Another famous example is the September 1970 hijacking of four jets by Palestinian militants wanting the release of their comrades.
Hijacking presents terrorists with a very visible method of obtaining attention for their cause. The importance of airplanes as symbols of commerce and freedom makes them effective as prime targets. Additionally, the naturally confined passengers are ideal hostages, as escape is not a possibility.
Terrorists have also hijacked other means of transportation including boats and trains. Nine Dutch Moluccans hijacked a train from Assen to Groningen in 1977, in an effort to obtain an independent homeland. In 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front hijacked the passenger liner Achille Lauro, demanding the release of 50 Israeli-held prisoners. In March 2006, Marxist Naxals hijacked a passenger train in northern India to protest the death of one of their members. They also robbed the passengers aboard.
There are three international agreements relevant to aircraft hijacking: The Tokyo Convention, the Hague Convention, and the Montreal Convention. Only the Hague Convention was convened specifically to address hijacking, the others refer to various other security aspects of aviation. Signed in the Hague on December 16, 1970, The "Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft" contains 14 articles relating to what constitutes hijacking and guidelines for what is expected of governments when dealing with hijackings. This article was inspired by a rash of airplane hijackings in the late 1960s. The convention does not apply to customs, law enforcement, or military aircraft. Thus its scope appears to exclusively encompass civilian aircraft. Importantly, the convention only comes into force if the aircraft takes off or lands in a place different than its place of registration. For aircraft with joint registration, one country is designated as the registration state for the purpose of the convention. The Hague Convention is significant in its establishment of an international definition of aircraft hijacking and a set of guidelines to address it. The full text can be found on the United Nations website.
Options for preventing hijacking include screening to keep weapons off the airplane, putting air marshals on flights, and fortifying the cockpit to keep hijackers out. Cockpit doors on most commercial airlines have been strengthened, and are now bullet proof.
In the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and India, air marshals have also been added to some flights to deter and thwart hijackers. In addition, some have proposed remote control systems for aircraft whereby no one on board would have control over the plane's flight.
In the case of the serious risk that an aircraft would be used for flying into a target, it would have to be shot down, killing all passengers and crew, to prevent more serious consequences.
United States commercial aircraft pilots now have an option of carrying a pistol on the flight deck, as a last resort to thwart hijack attempts. Opponents argued that shooting down the aircraft and killing everyone on board would be more reasonable than a pilot firing a pistol in an airliner at a flight deck intruder, due to the danger of explosive decompression. Such objections have been countered as baseless.
Since "Hi, Jack" and "hijack" are homophones, this greeting is now widely regarded as a security threat in many airports. Los Angeles International Airport has reminded people not to say "Hi, Jack" or "Hey, Jack," but rather, to say "Hello, Jack" instead.
One task of airport security is to prevent hijacks by screening passengers and keeping anything that could be used as a weapon, including small objects like nail clippers, from being taken aboard the aircraft.
In the United States, a law was passed in 1992 making carjacking a federal crime. This occurred amidst great media attention into the apparent spike of carjacking thefts, several of which resulted in homicide. One of these was the notorious September 1992 carjacking of Pam Basu in Savage, Maryland. Basu was carjacked at a stop sign in town; she soon became entangled in her seatbelt and then dragged to death. Libertarians and states' rights activists criticized this law, arguing that the control of crime is a matter for the states, not the federal government.
The United States Department of Justice estimates that in about one half of all carjacking attempts the attacker succeeds in stealing the victim's car. It estimated that, between 1987 and 1992, about 35,000 carjacking attempts took place per year, and, between 1992 and 1996, about 49,000 attempts took place per year. Carjacking has become more frequent because sophisticated devices and computer systems have prevented and discouraged theft of unattended cars.
English law has three levels of offense under the Theft Act 1968, each pertaining to the mens rea (Latin for "guilty mind") and the degree of violence used. The least serious is Taken Without Owner's Consent (TWOC), which covers any unauthorized taking of a "conveyance," s1 theft applies when the carjacker intends to permanently deprive the owner of property, while violent carjacking is an aggravated form of theft under §8 robbery.
Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, plane crews advised passengers to sit quietly in order to increase their chances of survival. An unofficial protocol emerged, in which civilians and government authorities understood that in most cases violence from the hijackers was unlikely as long as they achieved their goal (often, as during the rash of American incidents in the 1970s, a trip to Cuba).
Since the September 11 attacks by terrorists, the situation for passengers and hijackers has changed. As in the example of United Airlines Flight 93, where an airliner crashed into a field during a fight between passengers and hijackers, passengers now have to calculate the risks of passive cooperation, not only for themselves but for those on the ground. Future hijackers may encounter greater resistance from passengers, increasing the potential for bloody conflict.
Several nations have stated that they would shoot down hijacked commercial aircraft, despite killing innocent passengers on board, if it could be assumed that the hijackers intent was to use the aircraft in 9/11-style as a weapon. According to reports, U.S. fighter pilots have been trained in shooting down commercial airliners. Other countries such as Poland and India enacted laws or decrees that allow shooting down hijacked planes, although the Polish Constitutional Court later decided that the regulations were unconstitutional and dismissed them. 
All links retrieved February 22, 2014.
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