El Al Flight Attacked in Athens
Part of the damage inflicted to jet at Athens Airport, 26 December 1968. Photo: El Al

December 26, 1968

El Al Flight 253 from Tel Aviv to New York is about to take off after a layover in Athens when two men posing as passengers approach the Boeing 707. One draws a submachine gun from a bag and fires more than 80 rounds, while the other hurls several grenades at the plane’s engines in an attempt to ignite one of the 30-ton fuel tanks. The passengers evacuate in a panic.

One of the 41 passengers, Israeli maritime engineer Leon Shirdan, 50, is fatally shot. At least two others are wounded.

The two terrorists flee down the runway, firing occasional shots at the Greek police chasing them and scattering leaflets identifying themselves as members of the Lebanese-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Police catch the two attackers, identified as Naheb Suleiman, 19, and Mahmoud M. Mohammad, 25.

Mohammad is sentenced to 17 years in prison but is released in 1970 after Palestinian terrorists hijack a Greek airliner and demand his release. After moving around Europe and the Middle East, he manages to immigrate to Canada from Spain with a wife and three children in the mid-1980s without divulging his terrorist past. Canadian authorities learn of his history and decide to deport him in 1987, but, through claims of refugee status and appeals, he avoids being sent back to Lebanon until 2013. Suleiman’s fate is not clear