Almost 400 passengers and crew members of the British Airways plane were held hostage by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for several weeks in 1990, because the British Foreign Ministry did not provide the carrier with information about the invasion of Kuwait – according to declassified files.
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According to the documents, the British ambassador to Kuwait informed headquarters in London that the invasion had just started, but the information had not been passed on to British Airways authorities and that subsequent governments later concealed this omission.
British Airways flight BA149 departed from London At 6:40 local time on August 1, 1990, a two-hour delay. On the way to the destination of Malaysia, stopovers in Kuwait and India were planned. As the declassified files show, around midnight on August 1-2, the British ambassador called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs employee on duty with the information that the invasion of Kuwait had begun. It was transferred to the Middle East Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the offices of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Ministry of Defense and Intelligence, but not to British Airways.
The Iraqi military took over the airport
The plane landed in Kuwait on August 2 early in the morning. Less than an hour later, the airport was closed by Iraqi troops and passengers and crew trapped. There were 385 people on board – 367 passengers, not only British, and 18 crew members. For the next weeks they were used as hostages by the Iraqi authorities.
Many were physically and mentally abused, for example, they were simulated that they were being executed, they were held in conditions close to starvation, some women were sexually assaultedand some people were forced to take propaganda photos with Saddam.
In the end, all but one Kuwaiti citizen who was shot by the Iraqis were released by the Iraqi authorities – some after a few weeks, the last one as late as mid-December 1990, but many of the hostages later developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The mere fact that the plane landed in occupied Kuwait and the passengers were held hostage was obviously known, but for the first time it was revealed that the ambassador had warned of the invasion and could have been re-routed if information had been passed on to British Airways.
– This file shows that the phone call (by the ambassador) was not disclosed to parliament and the public. This neglect was unacceptable. As current Minister, I apologize to the House of Commons and express my deepest sympathy to those who have been detained and mistreated, said the current Foreign Minister, Liz Truss.
She pointed out that at that time there were no communication procedures between government officials and the airlines for such situations, and they now exist. She also denied long-standing suspicions that there was a group of British agents on board, who were planned to be transferred to Kuwait in this way. There is no information on this in the declassified file.