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El Al Plane in Geneva Saved From Terrorists' Rocket

The Swiss intelligence agency uncovered a terrorist gang planning to blow up an El Al plane during take-off, and for a week, diverted all El Al flights to Zurich.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/19/2006, 7:46 AM / Last Update: 5/19/2006, 10:18 AM

It has only now been publicized that an unnamed Islamic terror gang planned to fire an RPG missile at a plane as it took off from the Geneva airport. The Swiss agents first learned of the terrorists' plans five months ago.

An undercover agent inside the Islamic Center in Geneva became friendly with several immigrants from Arab countries, and they told him of their intentions. The terrorists had planned to flee to Iraq after the attack.

Armed with the alarming information, the Swiss security service investigated the airport and environs. The warning was also submitted to the local police, but no arrests were made in the case.

For a week, El Al planes were kept away from Geneva, flying to Zurich - 140 miles to the northeast - instead. El Al was contacted for its response following publication of the story, but said that it does not comment on security matters.

Many El Al planes are equipped with the FlightGuard system, designed to interfere with shoulder-fired missiles. FlightGuard creates another source of heat, in addition to the plane's engines, so that the heat-guided missiles will be misled and diverted away from the plane.

According to U.S. State Department estimates, shoulder-fired missiles have downed 25 airplanes and killed over 600 people since the 1970s. The weapons – termed MANPADs (man-portable, air defense systems) – are a favorite among terrorist groups, as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to transport and conceal.