Amin pilot recounts raid on Entebbe

Saturday July 13 2019

Israel soldiers in front of a plane use

Israel soldiers in front of a plane used in the 1976 rescue mission during the rescue anniversary celebrations in Entebbe on July 4, 2016. Inset is Gen Ali Kiiza. File photo/ Shabibah Nakirijja.  

By Paul Murungi

They came in on Monday morning and were rescued on Saturday night. Once they came, Amin and his commanders said our Air force staff at Entebbe should not be included in the initial operation. They brought other army officers who guarded the hostages, including nurses from Entebbe hospital,” Kiiza recalls.

However, Kiiza says a Russian military attache warned the Ugandan Air force officers of an impending rescue operation by Israel.
“The Russian said ‘You people better take these hostages out of this airport. Otherwise, when the Israelis come, there will be a war here’. And that is what exactly happened.

Kiiza says when the Israelis invaded the airport, he was with Capt John Kassami at his house in Entebbe. Suddenly, they heard gunshots at the airport. He tried to find out what was happening by calling soldiers at the airport, but there was hardly anyone in the tower to pick his calls. A driver later picked his call and said aircrafts had landed and taken the hostages.

“After that, I called State House to find out what had happened, and the comptroller immediately put me to Amin. He also didn’t know what was happening at the time and he thought the Uganda Air force was trying to take over the government,” Kiiza says.
“Amin said: ‘Why can’t you people negotiate, why do you want to take over the government?’ I told him, ‘Your excellency, this is not the Air force, it is an external force.’”

Kiiza says Amin had a preconceived notion that the Israelis were likely to attack. He ordered Kiiza and Captain Kassami to go to the airport and find out what exactly was happening.

“We went to the tower and the soldier guarding it told us what had happened. When we went back to Amin to tell him about the attack, he was very worried. Amin called a former Israel military attache and told him how Uganda had been planning to release the hostages since they were friends, but instead they (Israel) decided to attack us,” he recalls.

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However, one thing worried Kiiza. He feared that since there was fire at the airbase, the assembled missiles on the hungers could easily catch fire and flatten the airport. But on informing Amin, he didn’t know what to do. So, he volunteered with his Capt Kassami and drove to the base. At the base, the fire was isolated. One aircraft was hit and burnt. At least, six other MiGs aircraft had been damaged.
“When we went to the old terminal, we found everything silent, everybody was still in hiding. The commanding officer hid in a toilet,” Kiiza says.

He adds that the Israelis destroyed the MiGs because they never wanted to be followed since they can easily catch up with a passenger plane.
“It was traumatising to see people die. The following morning, some soldiers were arrested and to make it worse, some civilians were also arrested and some of them would never be seen again,” Kiiza says.

Background: On 27 June 1976, Air France Flight 139, an Airbus A300B4-203, departed from Tel Aviv, Israel, carrying 246 mainly Jewish and Israeli passengers and a crew of 12. The plane flew to Athens, Greece, where it picked up an additional 58 passengers, including four hijackers. It departed for Paris at 12:30 pm. Just after takeoff, the flight was hijacked by two Palestinians and by two Germans.

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