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UK admits to misleading public over passenger plane taken hostage by Saddam Hussein

Journalist and author Stephen Davis poses with his new book Operation Trojan Horse, which investigates the landing of British Airways flight 149 in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion on August 2, 1990, outside the Frontline Club in London on August 2, 2021 [TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images]
Journalist and author Stephen Davis poses with his new book Operation Trojan Horse, which investigates the landing of British Airways flight 149 in Kuwait during the Iraq invasion on August 2, 1990, outside the Frontline Club in London on August 2, 2021 [TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images]

The British public and the UK parliament were misled for decades about a British Airways flight to Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion of the Gulf Kingdom in 1990, the government has admitted in an apology.

For 30 years, successive governments have covered up the fact that there was a warning by the UK ambassador to Kuwait of the invasion by former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, before BA 149 landed in the country. However, the information, which is likely to have prevented the flight from landing in Kuwait, was not passed on.

Nearly all the 385 passengers on board were said to have been used as "human shields" by the Iraqi leader, with western civilians placed in strategic locations to discourage military action by western governments aimed at dislodging Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

READ: Saddam's deputy apologises for Kuwait invasion

The Tory government at the time was accused of exploiting the scheduled passenger flight to transport an intelligence team as Iraqi soldiers marched into Kuwait. Anthony Paice, who was serving as a political intelligence officer at the UK embassy in Kuwait City on 2 August, 1990, said he is "convinced" there was "military intelligence exploitation" of the BA flight.

Paice opened up in August about what he knew. He said that his obligations under the Official Secrets Act had prevented him from speaking out. "I am . . . now in a position to confirm that the military intelligence exploitation of BA149 did take place, despite repeated official denials by the Ministry of Defence since 1991," Paice is reported saying in the Financial Times. "I know that it was a hasty and misguidedly prepared attempt to put intelligence boots on the ground."

Both British Airways and the UK authorities have said the invasion's timing was unexpected and insisted that the flight played no military intelligence role. UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, who apologised on behalf of the government yesterday reiterated this denial.

"The call made by HMA Kuwait has never been publicly disclosed or acknowledged until today," Truss said in a written apology. "This failure was unacceptable . . . I express my deepest sympathy to those who were detained and mistreated."

The government's denial of exploiting a civilian flight for a military mission has been slammed by one of the passengers who was onboard. "Who on earth were they, then? Members of a rugby team?" Barry Manners is reported saying. "I know they were soldiers," Manners continued: "If the government was using British Airways as de facto military transport, come clean and admit it".

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