Foreign Office did NOT pass on 1990 Iraq invasion warning to British Airways in blunder that made 367 passengers into Saddam Hussein’s hostages for five months, Liz Truss admits
- Files released to National Archives show BA was not told about the Iraqi invasion
- BA flight landed in Kuwait in 1990 and passengers and crew were taken hostage
- The hostages were used as a ‘human shield’ by Saddam Hussein for five months
- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says the failure to share message was ‘unacceptable’
A warning that Iraqi forces had entered Kuwait was not passed on to British Airways even though it had a flight heading to the Gulf state, the Foreign Office has disclosed.
Flight BA149 with 367 passengers on board landed in Kuwait in the early hours of August 2 1990, and the passengers and crew were detained by the invading Iraqi forces and held hostage for up to five months.
In a Commons written ministerial statement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said files being released to the National Archives show that British ambassador Sir Michael Weston warned the Foreign Office around midnight that an Iraqi incursion was under way as the flight was en route.
New files released today show a warning that Iraqi forces had entered Kuwait was not passed on to British Airways even though its flight BA149 was already enroute to the Gulf state. Pictured: An media appeal issued at the time directing concerns loved ones to information line
‘The information was passed by the resident clerk to the head of the FCO’s Middle East Department and also to No 10, the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office and the Secret Intelligence Service, but not to British Airways,’ Ms Truss said.
‘The call made by HMA Kuwait has never been publicly disclosed or acknowledged until today.
‘These files show that the existence of the call was not revealed to Parliament and the public.
‘This failure was unacceptable. As the current Secretary of State, I apologise to the House for this, and I express my deepest sympathy to those who were detained and mistreated.’
The flight left Heathrow in August 1990 was scheduled to stop at Kuwait International airport for refuelling before it continued to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Prior to the plane landing in Kuwait, Iraqi forces had launched a full-scale invasion in the early hours of August 2.
The passengers and crew onboard BA’s flight 149 were taken hostage once the plane landed at Kuwait International airport and the plane itself was subsequently destroyed (pictured)
Within hours, the Iraqi army had taken control of the airport and, as a result, when the flight landed, its crew and passengers were immediately taken hostage and detained at nearby hotels. The plane itself was destroyed.
The hostages were used as a human shield by Saddam Hussein who thought their detention meant coalition troops would not carry out offensive missions against the sites where they were held.
Many of the detainees report witnessing atrocities that have left them with post-traumatic stress disorder which they continue to struggle with today.
There has long been speculation that the flight was allowed to continue to Kuwait, even though other flights were being diverted, because it was being used to carry a group of Special Forces into the country.
Anthony Paice, a former member of the British intelligence community working in Kuwait at the time previously told the BBC he is ‘the military intelligence exploitation of British Airways flight 149 did take place’.
Meanwhile cabin crew member Clive Earthy remembered seeing a military official come aboard and greet 10 men when the plane landed. He said the men disembarked in Kuwait and were never seen again.
Author and journalist Stephen Davies penned Operation Trojan Horse in which he says he has spoken with members of the team and believes BA knew about the operation.
But, in her statement, Ms Truss said the files released today were consistent with a statement by ministers in 2007 that ‘the Government at the time did not attempt in any way to exploit the flight by any means whatever’.
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