Israeli Air Force warplanes forced a Libyan aircraft to land at a base in northern Israel yesterday, but allowed it to go after searching in vain for Palestinian guerrillas aboard, military sources said.
The military command said it intercepted the jet believing it was ``car- rying people involved in planning attacks against Israel.''
The plane, which reportedly had 12 people aboard, was intercepted in international airspace on a flight from Libya to Syria. It was allowed to leave after five hours, during which passengers were questioned.
One source told Reuters the Israelis were looking for ``one particular terrorist'' but did not identify him. A British Broadcasting Corporation radio report said the Israelis were seeking George Habash, Nayif Hawatmeh, and Abu Musa -- all Palestinian guerrilla leaders who were apparently attending a conference of several radical Arab and Palestin- ian groups in Tripoli, Libya. Tripoli Radio said the plane's passengers included Abdullah Ahmar, a senior Syrian official who had attended the conference.
The Libyan news agency Jana said United States Navy units, recently engaged in Mediterranean exercises north of Libya, helped the Israelis with information on flight movements of the Libyan plane.
Pentagon officials in Washington denied any US involvement in the incident.
Yesterday Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said in Jerusalem that ``the time will come'' when Israel will track down Abu Nidal. Mr. Nidal, whose real name is Sabri Banna, leads a breakaway Palestinian
faction that claimed responsibility for last December's attacks on air- ports in Rome and Vienna. He is believed to have maintained headquar- ters at various times in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. There was no confirma- tion that Nidal was at the meeting in Libya.