I was standing in the aisle with my hands in the bag, looking for “Where the Indus is young” by Dervla Murphy, when I heard a noise from back down the plane.
Looking up and back, hands still in the bag, I saw a man struggling with a female flight attendant, just inside the second doorway. She had a telephone in her hand, and he had an arm around her neck.
He was dressed in standard Pakistani male clothes – “shalwar-kameez”, or a baggy tan cotton shirt and baggy tan cotton trousers – and he had round spectacles and a little moustache. I placed his origin anywhere between the eastern Mediterranean and the Bay of Bengal. In the hand that was on the end of the arm that was around the flight attendant’s neck, he had a pistol.
I had what I believe to be a typical civilian reaction to the sight of a gun drawn in anger, which was: “……………?”
I didn’t duck, or go to help, or shout, or run away, or anything. For what seemed like an age, and was probably about two seconds, I gawped. If anything went through my mind at all, it was the thought, “How extraordinary – that man has a gun”.
Abbas stepped forward quickly and glanced out of the window, then paced up the aisle a few rows, reached across, lifted a blind and glanced out again. Then he walked back and spoke to one of the flight attendants.
“Tell him that if anyone comes near the plane, if any US troops come near the plane, we will kill one body immediately. And tell him I have bombers on board, and all my men are commandos.”
His English was quite good. “One body” was probably a reasonable expression of how he regarded me – how he regarded all of us. We were trading stock: we could be bargained over, or disposed of.