The American Hijacker
On September 6, 1970, guerrillas from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine seized four aircraft in the skies over Europe. One of the hijackers, 27-year-old Patrick Arguello, was a U.S. citizen. The crew aboard the El Al flight he and his colleague Leila Khaled had seized disarmed the pair, foiling their crime and killing Arguello in the struggle. Why did he choose to commit such a violent act, in the name of a cause half a world away from his own roots and upbringing?
From ages three to 13, Patrick Arguello lived in Nicaragua. But in 1956, his family fled the country following the assassination of dictator Anastasio Somoza and the brutal repression then unleashed by his two sons, Luis and Anastasio, Jr. The family settled in Los Angeles for the rest of Arguello's teenage years. His childhood in Nicaragua was a formative time.
His mother was Irish American. His father was Nicaraguan. What this meant was that Patrick, like a lot of children of mixed marriages, was always searching for his identity... Ultimately, he identified with the underdog, with the Nicaraguan part, and in a sense he became more pro-Nicaraguan than Nicaraguans themselves.Marshall Yurow, biographer
Patrick and I were born in San Francisco, California. He was only about three [when we moved to Nicaragua]. Right away we started to learn how to speak Spanish... What happened from there on is that we came to adapt to the Nicaraguan culture. After all, my dad was from Nicaragua. Eventually we ended up on a farm about 17 kilometers from Managua, and that's where we spent most of our childhood.Robert Arguello, brother
These are some of my mom's words... "Anybody who knew Pat would know that he cared nothing for material goods, especially money. He was deeply concerned about the injustice in the world... Even as a child in Nicaragua he would come home without his shoes because he had given them to other children... whose parents could not afford to buy them shoes."Rose Arguello, sister
We learned a lot of things [growing up]... one of the things we did see is that my stepfather was a person who always treated those employees that he had on the farm as family. Patrick and myself grew up under those premises. We always treated them with respect.Robert Arguello, brother
Life in the States
During his teenage years in California, Arguello started forming a political consciousness. Characterized as a sensitive, introverted young man, he observed events like the Cuban revolution with fascination. But to his family, he was just a normal high school-age boy, who betrayed no signs of revolutionary fervor.
Patrick came back up to the United States when he was 16 or 17, and started going to high school in Los Angeles. I was up north in San Francisco at the time... whenever I would come down to visit, Pat was... as far as I was concerned, just the average high school student...Robert Arguello, brother
He went to Belmont High School and graduated in '61, with quite a lot of honors. He loved to go hunting: deer hunting, alligator hunting, deep sea fishing. That was something that he enjoyed very much. Pat was a very introverted person. Very quiet. But very happy, always joking. He tended to take everything in, watch people. He would say things that would stay with you forever -- his words were powerful. Growing up, very sensitive, aware of other people and their needs.Rose Arguello, sister
When Patrick came to the United States, he didn't know very much about politics. In high school, which would be 1957 to 1961, he came of age during a very crucial time. It was during the civil rights movement, but more important, it was during the Cuban revolution... That was the hot topic. Most youth of Latin America were fascinated by Cuba. Patrick, when he saw Cuba, he saw a situation very similar to Nicaragua. He saw a country that had been ruled by a dictator... and there was a feeling of... you know, if the Cubans can overthrow their dictator, why in Nicaragua can't we do the same thing?Marshall Yurow, biographer
During the 1960s, Patrick Arguello went to college and, like many young people of the era, became fascinated with left-wing politics. The heady combination of a desire to improve the world, the witnessing of brutal repression, and a determination to take a stand added up to Arguello's commitment, in the late 1960s, to the cause of the Sandinistas, a Marxist group opposed to Nicaragua's Somoza dictatorship. His interest would lead him to Europe for guerrilla training -- and into contact with a militant Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
We were totally unaware [of Pat's political activities]. It came as a shock, but as I looked back, because of his sensitivities, I could understand why he would do what he did. He wanted Nicaragua to be free from dictatorship... All his memories are in Nicaragua, though we moved to the United States...Rose Arguello, sister
Patrick came back to Nicaragua in the middle of massive student riots against the Somoza regime in the summer of 1961. It was almost like a baptism of fire... Patrick at this time starts to identify more and more with guerrilla struggle. He goes to UCLA, he studies Latin American Studies... In 1967, Patrick received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Chile... it was the intellectual capital of Latin America.
When Patrick was in Chile, two things happened which fundamentally changed his personality. One was the wiping out of the Sandinista guerrilla movement in Pancasan... when Patrick got the news, he was devastated... these were people he had known, and they were brutally killed. Several months later... Che Guevara was killed in Bolivia... He could no longer be a bystander. Patrick felt, I need to become part of the guerrilla movement.Marshall Yurow, biographer
He studied political science... that was his major. I think your own interest grows, you're curious, you want to know more about it... He got a scholarship to go to Chile, and I think that opened up another venue for him to find out what was going on in the world. It wasn't only in Nicaragua that this injustice was going on.Rose Arguello, sister
All I ever recall is Mom saying was that "Pat got involved in a demonstration." And of course at that time, anybody who was anybody in Nicaragua was protesting the Somoza regime. It wasn't viewed in those days as being Communist or anti-communist -- it was just anti-Somoza. I never saw him after that. The last time I saw him was in a coffin.Robert Arguello, brother
Like most revolutionary movements everywhere, the Sandinistas had always been getting involved with other revolutionary movements and governments... The Sandinistas went to Europe, and there they met with representatives of the Fourth International, a Trotskyite grouping of worldwide guerrilla movements, centered in Paris... It was through [them] that the Sandinistas went to Amman, Jordan, to get guerrilla training.
In the spring of 1970, Patrick Arguello was one of the first Sandinistas who went to the camps in Amman to train... they were there for about two months.... They found a certain amount of frustration with the training... For one thing, a lot of the skills they were learning weren't really applicable for Nicaragua -- like how to slit open a camel's belly, how to fight in the desert... The training was more physical conditioning. The Sandinistas wanted something more sophisticated... So they left...
Back in Europe, they told representatives of the Fourth International, "We're not satisfied with the training we got. What can we do?" And they were told, "We can put you in touch with another faction, George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. So they got in touch with George Habash, and basically they were told, "We can help you. But you don't get something for nothing. In order for us to help you, you need to carry out certain missions for us." One of which was... the skyjackings.Marshall Yurow, biographer
September 6, 1970 was the fateful day when Patrick Arguello boarded an El Al plane with a revolutionary colleague, Leila Khaled, and concealed weapons. The flight crew foiled their hijacking, and Arguello was carried off the plane in London, mortally wounded or perhaps already dead, after an emergency landing.
About 20 minutes after taking off, when the plane had almost reached its cruising altitude, we heard a scream from the economy section. The purser told me to go back to economy and see what was happening... I entered the first class cabin. It was empty. Then I saw a fist tear the curtain. A nice looking man in his early twenties was looking at me. He had a grenade in one hand, a pistol in the other. He said, in English, "Open the cockpit door."Michal Adar, flight attendant
We ran towards the cockpit. We passed through the first class -- it was a matter of seconds. I heard some shooting and then I saw someone in first class grabbing the telephone and trying to call someone. I showed them the two activated hand grenades and asked them to open the door. One of the flight attendants was also banging on the door saying, "Open! Open!" Someone looked through the peephole but did not open the door.Leila Khaled, hijacker
We heard the knocks on the door and the purser Abraham rang, calling us on the intercom. He told me: "There are a male and a female hijacker. They demand that you should open the cockpit door, otherwise they will kill and blow up the plane."
I decided that we were not going to be hijacked. The security guy was sitting here ready to jump. I told him that I was going to put the plane into negative-G mode. Everyone would fall. When you put the plane into negative, it's like being in a falling elevator. Instead of the plane flying this way, it dives and everyone who is standing falls down.Uri Bar Lev, El Al captain
His idea wasn't to hurt anyone... the idea was to bring it to the attention of the world. And they thought by hijacking these planes, they'd show the world listen, this is what's going on in Palestine, this is the injustice... I don't believe that the idea was to get anybody hurt. It's just that they wanted the attention...Rose Arguello, sister
Never, never, never did he imply that he was involved as deeply as we would later find out he was involved. He kept to himself.
What he did and what I knew were so far apart. Of course, I wanted to verify it... They opened the coffin and there he was... but funny, it didn't look like him, mainly I think because he had tinted his hair...Robert Arguello, brother
His Life and Death
Following Patrick's death, his family overcame international legal and political hurdles to recover his body. His mother beseeched several governments and organizations to help her bring Patrick home to Nicaragua. There he was laid to rest, a photo of his hero Che Guevara placed inside the coffin on his chest.
The State Department was trying to claim that the body was a Palestinian body. Yet later on the C.I.A. and Scotland Yard discovered that he was a U.S. citizen...Rose Arguello, sister
Patrick... has gone down in history as a brutal footnote to skyjack Sunday... on the right, they call him a terrorist, a person who pistol-whipped stewardesses, a person who was evil and violent. On the left, Patrick is called a selfless revolutionary, who, like Che Guevara, laid down his life for another people's cause. I think neither really does full justice to who Patrick Arguello was...
The great irony of Patrick's life is that, just like his idol, Che Guevara, Patrick also died in a foreign guerrilla movement, far from his own country, not immediately connected to Nicaragua... Patrick died in a way that he never would have anticipated, and might not even have wanted.Marshall Yurow, biographer
What's the difference between terrorism and one who fights for freedom? We're talking about 35 years ago, and what is going on now is nothing like that. What Pat was doing at the time, his idea was never to harm anybody. That was not the idea. The idea was to bring to the world's attention what was going on in Palestine.Rose Arguello, sister
It was a shame because he had so much to contribute. If you were to ask me, do you justify what he did? No. Each one of us latch onto a cause at a certain period... but if you are able to identify yourself and know what you want, apparently Pat was able to latch onto a cause. A cause that, to me, if I had been in a position of advising him, I'd have said, "Hey, pal, don't go that route. There's other ways you can make changes."
Patrick was a very loveable brother, with a cause... I did not know how deep it had penetrated his soul. In the early 20s, people have a tendency to be very much more vibrant than you are at 30 or 35... the fact that he took the cause to heart says a lot about the man himself. I have fond memories... time takes care of hurts.Robert Arguello, brother