Commandos launched a lightning raid Thursday on a hijacked Nigerian Airways jetliner after the hijackers refused to budge from their promise to blow up the plane and the two dozen people inside.
About 30 commandos burst through the rear hatch of the Airbus 310 and freed all but one of the 23 hostages shortly after midnight.A flight steward, one of three crew members, was killed in the raid and a suspected hijacker was among five wounded. All four hijackers were arrested in what Niger's foreign minister called "a great success."
The raid came 12 hours before the hijackers had threatened to ignite the gasoline they had splashed inside the plane.
The commandos, firing guns and tear gas, ended a three-day drama that began Monday when the aircraft was hijacked upon takeoff in Lagos, Nigeria, and diverted to Niamey, the capital of neighboring Niger.
The four hijackers said they were opposed to the Nigerian government, which the military installed after canceling the results of June 12 presidential elections. The hijackers made numerous demands, including the resignation of the government and enough fuel to take the plane to Frankfurt, Germany.
The Niger special forces team got into the plane when food was being delivered and the hatch was opened.
Passengers and some Niger officials said the flight attendant was shot to death, but airport security officials said he was believed to have died from suffocation caused by tear gas fired by the special forces team.