It flew over Cyprus and Egypt before
landing at Medina, the western Saudi city where millions of Muslim
pilgrims each year visit the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad.
Saudi and Russian officials said that
the hijackers were from Russia's rebellious republic of Chechnya and
that they threatened to blow up the passenger jet when their demands
to refuel the aircraft for a flight to an undisclosed destination were
Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin,
who monitored first reports of the hijacking while on vacation in
Siberia, rushed back to Moscow today after giving his consent to Saudi
authorities to storm the plane.
Passengers streamed out onto the
aircraft's wing, some with their hands in the air. Initial reports
said that as the Saudi police entered the cabin, the youngest of the
hijackers holding a flight attendant, Yulia Fomina, 27, of Moscow, at
knifepoint cut her throat and was then shot. The Turkish passenger was
reported to have died from a fatal knife wound to the stomach.
Two of the hijackers were shown in
television reports face down on the tarmac outside the plane with
their hands bound behind their backs. During the negotiations they had
hung a red, green and white Chechen flag in the plane's doorway.
Russia's Foreign Ministry asked Saudi
authorities to return the hijackers to Russia under the terms of
international conventions signed by both countries to combat air
piracy. Russia and Saudi Arabia have no extradition treaty.
More than 40 passengers had either
been released or had escaped down rear exit stairs of the aircraft
before the raid started. This group included a flight attendant who
had been stabbed during the first hours of the hijacking, the
The Vnukovo Airlines charter flight
was one of many that ferry Russians and foreign expatriates to Turkey
and other Mediterranean destinations during the long Russian winter.
Some Russian officials today
expressed irritation with Turkish authorities, whose airport security
measures failed to prevent the hijackers from carrying weapons on
board. Russia's interior minister, Vladimir B. Rushailo, was said to
have complained to Turkish officials recently that "Chechen
rebels" who are on Russia's "wanted list" were living
legally "on Turkish territory."
Tonight, Russia's domestic
intelligence service said it had evidence that a top Chechen rebel
commander, known only as Khattab, had ordered the hijacking.
Russia has waged a 17-month
"antiterrorist" campaign in Chechnya that continues to
simmer as a partisan guerrilla war. Several thousand Chechen rebels
continue to inflict casualties on Russian security forces, who have
reduced the republic's capital, Grozny, to rubble, forcing about
300,000 civilian refugees to spend a second winter in camps and
makeshift shelters as firefights, sniping and mine warfare continue.
On Russian television tonight, Sergei
Yastrzhembsky, an aide to Mr. Putin, said the hijackers had been
tentatively identified as Supian Arsayev, 42, and Eriskhan Arsayev,
15, and the name of a third was rendered as either Magomed Rezayev or
A Chechen spokeswoman in Jordan told
the Itar-Tass news agency today that the Arsayev brothers were
relatives of a former Chechen interior minister, Aslambek Arsayev, who
carried out an unsuccessful campaign in 1998 to arrest Chechen
warlords believed responsible for the kidnapping industry that has
plagued the Russian republic for most of the last decade. It was not
clear whether Mr. Arsayev had joined the rebels in the conflict that
erupted in 1999, but he served in the government of President Aslan
Maskhadov, who now leads the rebellion, along with the rebel
commanders Shamil Basayev and Khattab.