Hijacking is usually associated with airplanes, but it is certainly not limited to airplanes, nor is it limited to any one country. One of the scariest situations for parents of school children is when their bus is hijacked. That is exactly what happened on December 1, 1988, when five armed criminals, led by Pavel Yakshiyants hijacked a LAZ-687 bus carrying around thirty pupils and one teacher from school 42 in Ordzhonikidze, Soviet Union (now Vladikavkaz in Russia).

Most countries don’t often concede to the demands of the hijackers, because it doesn’t guarantee the safety of the hostages, but in this case, the local authorities did concede to the hijackers’ demands and provided an Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft to fly the hijackers to Israel. It was a very strange situation, as hijackings go, because first of all, the hostages were released when the demands were met. Meeting the demands of the hijackers unequivocally, often results in the hostages being taken to another location, where the situation just continues to escalate. In this case, however the hijackers landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, and the hijackers surrendered to local troops and police without resistance. Then, Israel agreed to extradited to the men to the Soviet Union, where they were sentenced to prison terms. What made that very strange was that at that time Israel and the Soviet Union had no extradition treaty, because relations between the two countries were still severed. All hostages were released. The Defense Minister of Israel at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, criticized Soviet authorities for providing the hijackers with an aircraft and flying them to Israel in exchange for the release of the hostages, thereby making it Israel’s problem.

The hijacking was carried out by Pavel Levonovich Yakshiyants, Vladimir Alexandrovich Muravlev, German Lvovich Vishnyakov, Vladimir Robertovich Anastasov, and Tofiy Jafarov. Yakshiyants and Muravlev were prior convicts, while the others were first time offenders. Yakshiyants, an Armenian, was first convicted when he was 17 and sentenced to two years in prison for theft. That did little to deter him, and he was later sentenced to four years in prison for robbery. Then in 1972, he was sentenced to ten years, again for robbery, but somehow managed to be released on parle in 1979.

What had started out as a field trip, turned scary when a man approached them saying he was the driver sent to take them home. The group of 30–31 schoolchildren had just finished a field trip to a local printing plant when the hijacking occurred. Subsequently, the teacher and her pupils, aged 10 and 11, boarded the bus to find themselves the hostages of five armed people. The group was then used as a human shield and bargaining chip to make sure their demands were met. The hijackers rode to the local obkom, which is “literally the “Washington Province Party Committee” and is a derogatory term used in Russian media and speech to imply that many crucial decisions by political elites of Russia and some other post-Soviet states have been and are agreed with and/or taken in the United States.” The hijackers demanded about 2 million rubles, which is about US$3.3 million at the time, and an aircraft. The authorities agreed, but the airport of Ordzhonikidze was unable to handle the large Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft that was sent. The hijackers were told that they would have free passage to airport of Mineralnye Vody, so they went there. The bus windows were curtained so that the law enforcement units could not see what was happening inside. Russia’s Alpha Group was mobilized for a possible hostage rescue. It was learned that the hijackers were planning to land in Tashkent to pick up a friend then fly to Pakistan, but changed their mind and chose Israel instead. According to Israeli Army commander Major General Amram Mitzna, the hijackers believed they would be safe in Israel because they had heard that recent Israeli elections had produced an anticommunist government. Boy, were they in for a surprise?

The Ilyushin Il-76 cargo aircraft was escorted by Israeli fighter aircraft and landed on a remote darkened runway. It was quickly surrounded by army and police vehicles and ambulances. According to an Ilyushin Il-76 crew member, the hijackers asked whether they had landed in Israel or Syria. They said that if it was Israel, they would stay. Mitzna said that the hijackers demanded proof that they were actually in Israel. They wanted to hear Yiddish or see a Star of David. When a soldier on the runway spoke a few words in Yiddish, the hijackers left the aircraft with their hands in the air. The hostages were quickly secured and were flown back to Ordzhonikidze. Following the extradition, the ring leaders, Yakshiyants and Murlav were put on trial. In March 1989, Yakshiyants was sentenced by the Supreme Court of Russia to 15 years in prison. Murlav was sentenced to 14 years. The remaining defendants received sentences ranging from three to fourteen years. All of the hostages arrived home safely, none the worse off for their ordeal.

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