By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor
The vulnerability of the aviation industry to acts of terrorism and armed conflict became manifest once again on Thursday when a Malaysian passenger plane MH17 on a direct flight from Malaysia to the Netherlands, was brought down in the Ukrainian airspace.
No fewer than 295 persons have been reported dead in a mishap that struck the soul of the global aviation industry and Malaysia in particular, which is yet to unravel the mysterious disappearance of another aircraft, MH237, which disappear in March on its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to China.
A litany of plane shot downs
Travelling by air is acknowledged to be the fastest and safest, but incidents of this nature have cast doubts on such claims. Some past incidents support the view that skies have become a choice spot for terrorists
On February 21,1973, a Libyan Boeing 727, flying from Tripoli to Cairo, strayed into the Israeli control Sinai desert where it was brought down by the Israeli Air Force which claimed that the airplane flew over some military facilities. Only five out of the 1132 passengers on board survived the incident.
On September 1, 1983, a South Korean flight 007, with 269 passengers on board, was shot down by Soviet fighter jets on the Island of Sakhalin. The New York-bound flight was passing through Alaska before crossing the Pacific Ocean.
On July 3, 1988, Dubai- bound Iranian Airbus 300, was shot down by two US missile cruiser Vincennes while the plane was still in the Iranian air space. This caused the death of 290 passengers.
In that same year, a South Korean Boeing 747 plane was brought down by soldiers of the defunct Soviet Union which alleged that the plane disobeyed its warnings and strayed into its airspace.
A total of 290 passengers were killed. The defunct Soviet Union inflicted more midair tragedies on South Korea as part of the Cold War then.
On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Airline Flight 103 was brought down in Lockerbie, Scotland by Libyan sponsored terrorists. The airline went under after the attack.
In October 2001, a Siberian plane, with 78 passengers on board, was shot down by Ukraine which denied any role in the incident at first, but later admitted that its military downed the airplane during military training.
There are countless acts of hijacking of airplanes by terrorist and armed groups around the world. On Sept 11, 2001 a group of Al Qaeda jihadists seized four airplanes in America to unleash attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, the White House and the Pentagon in one of the most horrendous terrorist attacks using aviation facilities. We had the Christmas day failed attempt by a radicalized young Nigerian student, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, to blow up a Delta Airplanes plane in the air.
The United States, Russia, Ukraine and Israel cannot boast of a clean record in cases of attacks on civilian airplanes. Consequently the early frantic attempt by the Ukrainian authorities and a section of the US intelligence community to find a scapegoat in the Malaysian air disaster is suspect.
The government in Kiev and some hawks in US are keen on worsening the relations between the United States and Russia over the widespread discontent in the eastern region of Ukraine where a predominant Russian population are opposed to the attempt by Kiev to join the European Union, a move Russia strongly oppose.
The Malaysian government has told the world that there is the need to carry out an international investigation to ascertain the cause the disaster. The Dutch government holds the same position which the US president Barack Obama thinks is the wise step.
The authorities in Kiev were the first to link the disaster to an earth to surface missile strike by Ukrainian separatists on its eastern flank which are demanding full autonomy from Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has joined in the blame game which will only complicate to process of investigation.
Both President Obama and the Malaysian Prime Minister have insisted in securing the site of the crash and ensuring that no items are removed from the scene to enable investigators determine whether the aircraft was hit by a missile. The location of the black box is a major priority for the search since the crash was said to have come suddenly.
There have been controversies on which of the sides to the Ukrainian conflict fired the alleged missile that may have struck the aircraft. The fighting groups on both sides were expected to maintain a truce to permit the use of diplomacy in a conflict that threatens to dismember Ukraine.
Attack on airplanes attracts instant global attention as the magnifying impact of the incident in the media takes the centre stage. This makes that strategy attractive to terrorists and armed groups in conflict zones.
In one single incident, more deaths have been recorded far more than what has been reported since the Hamas militants and Israeli troops began a full scale military offensive last week.
There is no doubt that Malaysian Airlines has been worse hit in the past four months. It is yet to overcome the trauma of its MH370 that went missing in March. The global search for the aircraft has proved abortive. Another massive negative publicity arising from the recent incident is bad for its business.
A retired Director of DSS who wanted identity protection told Sunday Vanguard:”With the Boko Haram sect growing in their acquisition of sophisticated weapons, the security and intelligence communities , the aviation authorities and the general public must brace up to high level vigilance.
“We saw what happened in Rwanda in April 1994. Terrorists are anarchists; the only way to fight them is vigilance and intelligence.”