U.S. Ambassador Was On Hijacked Yemeni Plane

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, was said to be safe Tuesday after an armed man hijacked the commercial aircraft she was on and demanded that the flight be diverted to Baghdad.

The Yemen Air pilot instead landed the plane in Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa country across the Red Sea straits, and the crew managed to overcome the hijacker, a spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in San'a, the Yemeni capital, said by telephone.

The spokesperson said Bodine was safe - embassy staff had spoken to her by telephone - and "seemed very satisfied with how the Yemeni crew had handled the situation."

The domestic flight from San'a to the southern town of Taiz was hijacked shortly after departure at mid-morning, she said.

"The crew was able to isolate the hijacker in the front of the aircraft while the passengers exited at the rear, and they then overcame the hijacker. All the passengers and crew are safe and sound."

The spokesperson said Bodine was still in Djibouti, awaiting a Yemeni presidential aircraft that was being dispatched for her.

Ten years ago, the 52-year-old ambassador was one of the last foreign diplomats to leave Kuwait after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose forces had occupied the country, ordered them to leave.

Bodine, then chief deputy to Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell, finally withdrew a month before the Gulf War began in January 1991.

The embassy spokesperson said that, as far as she knew, Bodine had never before been in a hijacking situation.

Bodine was en route to Taiz for a meeting with Yemeni President Abdullah Saleh and the visiting head of the U.S. Central Command, General Tommy Franks, she added.

The meeting was intended to discuss military cooperation and the U.S.-Yemeni investigation into last October's terrorist bombing of an American destroyer, the USS Cole, in Aden harbor.

Bodine was reportedly accompanied by other senior embassy officials and a Yemeni presidential aide.

A wire service report filed by a correspondent who was on the flight said the pilot had managed with difficulty to persuade the hijacker, who was armed with a pistol, that he needed to land and refuel the Boeing 727 at Djibouti.

The report said the gunman claimed to be a supporter of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed in the suicide bombing attack on the USS Cole on October 12. The investigation continues.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow