British "human shields" taken hostage by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war demanded a public inquiry today into allegations that the government put their lives at risk to allow a secret operation to go ahead.
They were among 367 passengers and crew seized by Iraqi troops when British Airways flight 149 landed in Kuwait hours after the invasion of the country on August 2 1990.
Their demand for an inquiry was sparked by new claims published by author Stephen Davis that the flight was being used to transport undercover agents into Kuwait.
At a press conference in the House of Commons today, crew and passengers described how around nine men joined the flight unannounced as it was delayed on the tarmac at Heathrow, then disappeared immediately after its arrival in Kuwait City.
John Major, the Conservative chancellor at the time, has previously denied rumours that the mysterious men may have been special-forces troops, insisting that no military personnel were on board.
But Mr Davis now says that he has obtained documentary evidence, along with interviews with up to six sources - including one of the men on board the plane and one of the operation's organisers - indicating that they were on a secret mission to gain intelligence on the movement of Saddam's troops.
He said that BA was wary of allowing the flight, bound for the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to stop off in Kuwait for refuelling while Iraqi troops were massing on the border, but the airline was assured by a British embassy official that it would be safe to land.
Mr Davis alleged that this official was in fact the station chief for MI6, which was in charge of organising the operation.
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