The Washington Post reported incorrectly Friday that aides of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did not allow a representative of the Reuter news agency to accompany Khomeini on his flight back to Iran. A Reuter correspondent was aboard Khomeini's plane.
As the chartered Air France 747 carrying Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini home from 14 years of exile approached Mehrabad Airport, the pilot took evasive action.
The airline's senior pilot for the Middle East dipped his wings sharply back and forth as he reconnoitered the field. He apparently wanted to make sure it was safe to land.
Air France had insisted on halving the normal passenger load of 381 so it could double the load of aviation fuel in case the plane had to turn around and go back to Paris without landing.
For more than a half hour, the plane made passes over the city before setting down with the ayatollah, 47 Iranian followers and 150 journalists.
"Allahu Akbar" -- God is great -- went up the cry from the Iranians as the plane finally touched down.
While there were women journalists aboard, there were no women and children among the ayatollah's followers aboard.Asked why, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, one of the religious leader's principal aides, said that it was to avoid endangering their lives.
"It's not as safe a plane as you may think it is," said the aide in a press briefing an hour after takeoff."The ayatollah said he didn't want anyone to take the risk for him, that anyone who didn't want to come, he would understand it. Everyone takes his own risk... they may shoot the plane."
Ghotbzadeh quoted Khomeini as saying that he saw four possible outcomes to his trip home:
"I will be killed.
"I will be arrested.
"I will be placed under house arrest.
"Or, I will be free with my people.
"I'm ready for all the possibilities."
Speaking of the prospects of possible bloodshed and the willingness of the ayatollah's movement to fight, Ghotbzadeh insisted. "We're not kidding. We're very serious about this."
Khomeini himself got to sleep in a private room fixed for him in the part of the 747 that is up a flight of stairs and normally serves as the first-class bar and cocktail lounge.
Reuter news agency did not make it on the flight because the Khomeini people consider its Tehran bureau to be in the hands of SAVAK, the notorious secret police.
Also missing from the flight was anyone from the Israeli press. A Jewish correspondent for a European paper said the Israeli correspondents were made to feel that none of them need apply.
The ayatollah nevertheless made a big poing of underlining the traditional Middle Eastern distinction between Judaism and Zionism. Before returning home from France, Khomeini sent a huge bouquet of flowers to the head rabbi of Tehran, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency.
The Moslem Shiite leader was repaid at the airport today with the presence of three rabbis to greet him along with three Christian prelates.