Five hijackers seized a New Orleans-bound Honduran jetliner carrying 87 people, including some North Americans, yesterday and forced it to fly to Managua in a bid to force the release of Salvadoran leftists they said were in jail in Honduras.
Once the plane was on the ground here, 38 passengers were freed by the hijackers, who said they belonged to a Honduran leftist group, the Cinchonero National Liberation Front, Nicaragua's Deputy Interior Minister Luis Carrion said.
Carrion said the hijackers agreed to release all women and children in order to begin negotiations on their key demand -- the release of Facundo Guardado, a top Salvadoran leftist leader arrested two months ago in Honduras.
The hijackers were also demanding the release of several other Salvadoran leftists held by Honduran authorities, and the publication of their manifesto in Honduran newspapers.
In the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, members of the group took responsibility for the hijacking and said "we are ready to destroy the airplane" if their demands were not met.
Honduran officials said the leftist group also demanded the neutrality of Honduras in the Salvadoran civil war, the dismantling of camps in southern Honduras used by Nicaraguan exiles fighting to overthrow the leftist government here and guarantees of security for 35 Honduran leftist leaders.
The hijackers seized the Boeing 737 four minutes after its 9:30 a.m. EST takeoff from Tegucigalpa's Toncontin International Airport.
In Washington, a State Department spokesmand said that four Americans were among those relased from the plane and at least six other Americans were still on board. He said he had no list of names or hometowns. He said there could be others "but the question of citizenship comes into play."
The hijackers, carrying pistols and submachine guns, allowed 28 women, six children and four men to leave the plane that was surrounded by Nicaraguan troops while the temperature hit 94 degrees at midday.