An El Al airplane in flight.
An El Al airplane in flight. Photo by Archive
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The security services have barred EL AL from flying to and from Nigeria because of concerns that the Israeli airliner's aircraft and crew will become terrorist targets. As a result of the decision the airline has canceled a series of flights planned to ferry thousands of pilgrims to Israel and back to Nigeria, Haaretz has learned.

The original plan was for EL AL to carry out the flights on behalf of a local Nigerian firm - TAT - starting on October 20. The security ban applies to all Israeli airlines. It is still unclear how the thousands of pilgrims will travel to Israel from Nigeria. One option is for a foreign airline to carry out the flights, however it will have to meet Israel's stringent security requirements.

The EL AL flights were to operate in what the professional jargon refers to as "wet leasing." In other words, the Israeli airline would operate its jets and crews for the Nigerian firm. The symbols of the airline were to be removed from the 747-400 jets that were to be used for ferrying the pilgrims, as would be the code for the Israeli airline, all part of efforts to provide added security to an operation that was essentially secret.

Overall, the plan was to carry out some 20 flights, which would last two to three months. The estimated number of pilgrims who were to travel to Israel was 10,000-12,000, and the flights were to be conducted from three different Nigerian airports to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

This was not to have been the first time an Israeli airline carries out near-secret flights from Nigeria to Israel, delivering pilgrims to the Holy Land. In March 2009, Israir brought about 15,000 pilgrims from Nigeria to Israel in an airlift operation involving some 60 flights that lasted more than two months.

EL AL declined to comment on the story.