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UK govt, British Airways sued over Kuwait hostage crisis

July 1, 2024

There have also been claims, denied by the UK government, that London put those on board the 1990 flight at risk by using the flight to deploy undercover operatives.

British Airways Boeing 777-200ER
BA have denied the allegationsImage: Bayne Stanley/Zuma/picture alliance

Hostages from a British Airways flight that refueled in Kuwait, en route to Kuala Lumpur, in 1990 have begun legal action against the UK government and the airline, a British law firm confirmed on Monday.

The passengers and crew members of BA flight 149 were hauled off the plane when it landed in Kuwait just hours after Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi troops to invade the Gulf state on August 2, 1990.

After the 367 passengers and crew disembarked, the plane was destroyed on the runway, with some of those on board spending more than four months in captivity. They were seen at the time as human shields, deployed by Iraq's then-president to deter attacks from the West on the Iraqi troops during what turned out to be the first of two Gulf wars.

Paul Merlet (C), treasurer of the British Airways passenger association, representing the passengers taken hostage by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, points to a photo of their airplane, which was grounded at Kuwait City 02 August 1990
The plane was later destroyed on the runwayImage: Jacques Demarthon/dpa/picture-alliance

'Deliberately endangering' passengers and crew

Ninety-four of the passengers and crew have filed a civil claim at the High Court in London, taking aim at the UK government and British Airways, accusing them of "deliberately endangering" civilians, argued law firm McCue Jury & Partners.

"All of the claimants suffered severe physical and psychiatric harm during their ordeal, the consequences of which are still felt today," McCue Jury & Partners said.

The legal action claims that the British government and BA "knew the invasion had started" but allowed the flight to stop in Kuwait all the same.

The accused did so because the flight, and therefore those on board, were used to "insert a covert special ops team into occupied Kuwait," the firm added.

Countries pledge billions to rebuild Iraq

One of those on the flight, Barry Manners, said: "We were not treated as citizens but as expendable pawns for commercial and political gain."

"A victory over years of cover-up and bare-faced denial will help restore trust in our political and judicial process," he added.

Files released in November 2021 revealed that the UK ambassador to Kuwait informed then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government about reports of an Iraqi invasion before BA flight 149 landed but the message was not relayed to BA.

There have also been claims, denied by the British government, that London put those on board at risk by using the flight to deploy undercover operatives and delayed take-off to allow them to board.

BA has firmly denied accusations of negligence, conspiracy and a cover-up.

AFP material contributed to this article.

Edited by: Roshni Majumdar

John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk