Attack against an El Al plane at Zurich International Airport (1969)

Armed with only a handgun, security guard Mordechai Rahamim thwarted an attack against an El Al plane during preparation for take-off at Zurich International Airport.


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Mordechai Rahamim, a security guard and former Sayeret Matkal (General Staff Reconnaissance Unit) soldier, was on board the plane.

 

The attack was a complete surprise, and no immediate countermeasures were planned for such a situation. After an El Al plane was hijacked to Algeria in 1968, the only attack scenarios studied by Israeli security services at the time were hijacking or attacks inside the plane. Security guards were trained and equipped with short range Beretta 0.22 handguns, and were not taught to return fire from inside the plane.

 

Explosives 

Explosives

 

 

When the terrorists opened fire on the plane, Rahamim was in his seat. He heard knocking from the outside, as bullets hit the body of the plane, but gave it no consideration. Suddenly he heard one of the stewards cry, "They are shooting!".

 

 

One man act 
Rahamim rose from his seat and took out his handgun. He saw that the cockpit door was open, and all crew members were lying on the floor. He entered the cockpit with his handgun loaded, all the while hearing shots and seeing bullets hitting the interior of the plane.

 

The right window of the cockpit was open. Rahamim leaned out of the window in order to identify the source of the shooting, which turned out to be to his right at the back, at a 45-degree angle. He spotted a man lying in the snow and shot at him twice. Rahamim's handgun jammed when he tried to fire his third shot.

Rahamim ran toward the back door, asked a steward to open it and to lower the emergency slide, and slid outside. He ran behind the plane toward the fence in a flank attack in the general direction of the shots, reloading his handgun on the move.

 

After arriving at the fence, Rahamim saw one of the shooters standing between two piles of snow 30-40 meters away, holding a Kalashnikov rifle. Rahamim jumped over the fence, ran toward the terrorist and commanded him in English to drop the rifle. The attacker did not comply. Rahamim fired three shots at the terrorist from a distance of approximately four meters. One shot wounded the attacker in the neck, and two hit him near the armpit. The terrorist collapsed into the snow.

 

 

Courtroom 

Courtroom

 

 

Swiss policemen then attacked Rahamim and took away his handgun. While being led away toward the police Volkswagen, Rahamim saw two other terrorists. One had surrendered to Swiss policemen at gunpoint, and the other was being apprehended.

 

 

Epilogue
Swiss authorities pressed charges against the arrested terrorists and Rahamim, who was released on bail. The trial began on November 28, 1969 and lasted only a few days. Rahamim was acquitted, and the three terrorists received long sentences. They were released a year later, on September 1970, following a Swissair plane hijacking by members of a Palestinian terrorist organization who demanded the release of the imprisoned terrorists.