El Al Best Protected, but Most Threatened Airline

Israel's national airline is widely regarded as the best protected in the world, gaining its reputation through strict security measures taken to protect against repeated threats.

From the late 1960s until the 1980s, El Al planes and passengers were subjected to shooting attacks, hijacking and bombing attempts.

The airline and the Israeli government responded by increased security on the planes and at El Al check-in counters in airports around the world. The security includes armed guards at check-in, sky marshals and extensive searches of luggage. Passengers are told to arrive three hours ahead of flights to make time for the security checks.

An El Al security guard shot dead the gunman in Thursday's attack at Los Angeles International Airport, in which two others were killed. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres praised "the swift reaction and the courage" of El Al agents in Los Angeles.

Israeli expertise in airport and airline security has been very much in demand in the United States, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Most of the Israelis marketing the know-how have served in the Israeli army or security services.

The first and last hijacking of an El Al plane was in July 1968, when a flight from Rome was hijacked by members of the extremist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and forced to land in Algiers. Passengers and crew were held hostage there, with the last of them not released until December that year.

A later September 1970 hijacking attempt failed when sky marshals shot and killed one hijacker and captured his accomplice. After that, Palestinian groups hijacked planes of other airlines which were flying to and from Israel, including an Air France plane forced to land at Entebbe, Uganda, in June 1976, leading to a spectacular rescue operation carried out by Israeli commandos.

Tight security has also thwarted attempts to put bombs aboard El Al planes.

In April 1986, a Jordanian, Nezar Hindawi, planted a bomb in the hand luggage of his pregnant Irish fiancee as she was about to board an El Al plane at London's Heathrow airport. The bomb was detected by El Al security. Hindawi was sentenced to 45 years in jail and Britain broke diplomatic relations with Syria, which it blamed for the attempt.

It is shooting attacks, like the one at Los Angeles airport, El Al has found most difficult to prevent.

In May 1972, three members of the radical Japanese Red Army group arrived on a flight at Tel Aviv airport and opened fire with automatic weapons in the arrival lounge, killing 24 people, mostly Puerto Rican pilgrims. Two attackers were killed and one was captured. There was a major shakeup in security at the airport in the wake of the attack.

In December 1985, Palestinians opened fire and threw grenades at passengers at the El Al check-in counters at airports in Rome and Vienna, killing 18 people.

Palestinian gunmen also opened fire with automatic weapons at El Al planes at Athens airport in 1968 and Zurich airport in 1969. One passenger was killed in the Athens attack and a trainee pilot died in the Zurich shooting. In Zurich, sky marshal Mordechai Rachamim jumped from the plane and killed one of the attackers with a pistol.