Meaning of HIJACKING in English


also spelled High-jacking, the illegal seizure of a land vehicle, aircraft, or other conveyance while it is in transit. Although in the late 20th century the term hijacking most frequently referred to the seizure of an airplane and its forcible diversion to destinations chosen by air pirates, the term may also be used to describe acts of illegal seizure of such vehicles as railroad cars, trucks, and automobiles. In the United States in the 1920s (when the term originated), hijacking for the most part referred to on-the-road thefts of truckloads of illegally manufactured liquor or to the similar seizure of rumrunners at sea. By the mid-1950s, use of the term had been broadened to encompass the hijacking of trucks carrying legitimate cargo, as well as the hijacking of legal ships. Airplane hijacking is also known as skyjacking. The first such hijacking within the United States occurred on May 1, 1961, when a man forced a commercial airliner enroute from Miami to Key West, Fla., to detour to Cuba. By the end of 1961, four planes had been hijacked to Cuba. Most of the planes that were subsequently skyjacked in the United States or elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere were flown to Cuba by either homesick Cubans or politically motivated leftists. Some skyjackings were purely financially motivated, with the skyjackers calling for huge ransom payments in exchange for ensuring the safety of the passengers and crew. Few of these latter attempts were successful. A more dangerous and destructive spate of hijackings began in Europe and the Middle East from 1968 onward. The participants were usually politically motivated Palestinians or other Arabs who commandeered aircraft while in flight and threatened harm to the passengers and crew unless certain of their comrades were released from jail in Israel or some other location. Some of these hijackers also held the passengers and crew hostage and demanded large ransom payments from those people's governments. The climax of this new form of terrorism occurred in September 1970, when an 11-day sequence of skyjackings resulted in 300 passengers being held hostage for a week and the destruction of four jet aircraft (on the ground) worth a total of $50,000,000. Arab and other leftist hijackers abducted, confined, and even occasionally murdered individuals traveling on airplanes that were diverted from scheduled routes. The threat that airplane hijacking posed to international communications as well as to the lives and safety of crews and passengers was unparalleled since the days of high-seas piracy. An international agreement to apprehend, extradite, and punish hijackers was difficult to obtain, however, because several Middle Eastern governments that were overtly or secretly involved in hijackings considered such acts to be ones of political expedience rather than criminal offenses. Hijackings continued to occur in sizable numbers in the early 1970s and in 1973 the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration instituted systematic searches of each airline passenger and his hand luggage. A magnetometer, an electronic device that could detect metal objects, was used to check passengers for weapons. Carry-on luggage and other belongings of passengers were searched by hand or by low-pulse X-ray machines. Local armed guards were stationed at the search points and at other airport locations such as embarkation gates. Many other countries, mostly in Europe, adopted similar measures in their airports, which generally proved effective. The number of hijackings decreased significantly in 1973 and 1974, but the practice still continued to occur despite airport precautions and long jail sentences for convicted hijackers in most Western countries. Beginning as early as 1963, the United Nations had urged member nations to sign an international convention against hijackers, which had been drafted in Tokyo. Seven years later, on Dec. 16, 1970, 50 nations meeting at The Hague signed a convention for the suppression of unlawful seizure of aircraft. It specifically designated that the unlawful seizure of an aircraft in flight, employing force, threat of force, or intimidation, was an extraditable offense in any extradition treaty between the signatories. In 1978 at a seven-nation summit meeting in Bonn, the United States, Italy, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, and West Germany pledged to institute sanctions against nations that gave sanctuary to hijackers. In that same year the nine member states of the European Economic Community (EEC) agreed to boycott the airline of any nation that harboured hijackers or that refused to release hijacked aircraft. The threat of being denied landing rights in the EEC countries' airports proved effective, and several Middle Eastern nations that had previously provided sanctuary for hijackers and hijacked aircraft now ceased to do so. In the 1980s air hijackings continued to occur, though the security and punishment measures that had been instituted in most countries probably served to deter a much greater number from being committed.

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