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Entebbe pilot Michel Bacos ‘saw hostage murdered’

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The French captain of a hijacked plane at the centre of a famed Israeli rescue operation has described how he saw a passenger killed by a hostage-taker.

In a rare interview, Michel Bacos, 92, said a Palestinian opened fire on hostages when commandos stormed the terminal in Entebbe on 3 July 1976.

It was previously understood no hostages were murdered by the captors.

Israeli forces freed 105 hostages in a surprise raid, killing about eight hostage-takers and 20 Ugandan troops.

One hostage, Jean-Jacques Mimouni, was mistaken for a hostage-taker and shot dead by a commando. Another, Pasco Cohen, also died after being accidentally shot by one of the Israeli soldiers.

Speaking from his home in Nice, France, Capt Bacos said the third hostage who lost her life, Ida Borochovich, was killed in front of him by a hostage-taker.

“When the raid started, a Palestinian came and started firing on the hostages. The woman was on the floor next to him by the entrance and he shot her. For sure she was killed.”

Capt Bacos said, earlier in the week, that one of two Germans who, along with two Palestinians, hijacked his Air France plane, had told him: “If anyone tries to save the hostages, we’ll know first and we’ll shoot all of you.”

In the event, the hijacker, Wilfried Boese, did not turn his gun on the hostages when the commandos fought their way into the building. He was shot dead in an exchange of fire.

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“The noise was loud but after a few moments somebody said: ‘There are Israeli soldiers here.’

“I lifted my head and I saw a soldier dressed like a member of the Ugandan army with a white hat – and he said in Hebrew: ‘Listen, guys, we’ve come to take you home.’

“I didn’t believe what I was seeing, even now I can’t describe it – seeing the soldier, it was as if an angel had come down from the sky.”

Capt Bacos was awarded France's highest civilian honour for his actions
Capt Bacos was awarded France’s highest civilian honour for his actions

On the third day of the crisis, the hostage-takers separated the Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish passengers from the rest of the passengers, who were allowed to leave.

Capt Bacos and his crew of 12 were offered the chance to go, but refused to leave while people were still being held.

“I was a captain of Air France and before that I was in the Free French Forces under [Charles] de Gaulle during the [Second World] War – it would be impossible for me to leave my passengers, unimaginable,” he said.

“I told my crew that we must stay until the end, because that was our tradition, so we cannot accept being freed. All my crew agreed without exception.”

The Air France airbus was hijacked on 27 June and flown to Entebbe, where at least three Palestinian accomplices were waiting at the airport.

They demanded the release of 54 militants held by Israel and four other countries, and a $5m ransom.

Capt Bacos, his crew and the rescued passengers were flown back to Israel on 4 July, hours after the night-time operation. He was later awarded the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest civilian decoration, for his actions during the crisis.

A fourth hostage, Dora Bloch, who had been taken to hospital before the raid, was murdered on the orders of President Idi Amin the day after the Israeli rescue.

By Raffi Berg for BBC News

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