An Iraqi passenger plane was hijacked Thursday shortly after leaving Baghdad airport and crashed as it attempted to make an emergency landing in Saudi Arabia apparently following a fierce gun battle.
The state-owned Iraqi News Agency said at least 59 people were killed and 32 injured. Reports from Jordan and from Saudi Arabia put the death count at 62 or more.
It was not known whether any Americans were aboard the plane.
In the first official confirmation from Baghdad, INA said two Iranian agents of Lebanese nationality hijacked the Iraqi Airways Boeing 737 on a flight from Baghdad to Amman, 55 minutes after taking off from Saddam Hussein Airport.
The news agency said the plane crashed as the pilot was attempting to make a landing in Arar area in Saudi Arabia.
The Kuwaiti News Agency quoted civil aviation sources in Amman as saying a gunbattle erupted between hijackers and security guards aboard the Iraqi jetliner.
The identity or the exact number of the hijackers were not known.
In Beirut, a previously unknown group calling itself the Revolutionary Work Organization claimed responsibility for the attack to press for the release of three 'revolutionaries' being held in Iraq.
In a telephone call to a Sunni Moslem radio station, a man claiming to speak for the group warned more attacks would be launched against Iraqi targets if the men were not released within 72 hours.
There was no immediate independent confirmation of the group's claim.
A statement by the Saudi Ministry of Defense and Civil Aviation confirmed a crash occurred but made no mention of a hijacking. A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington said he could not confirm whether the jet was hijacked.
The Saudi ministry statement said the plane, carrying 91 passengers and 15 crew members and security officers, crashed about 800 yards from the runway as it tried to make an emergency landing.
The jet caught fire and burned after the 12:30 p.m. crash, the statement said.
The Jordanian television said there were seven Jordanian passengers on the plane, including five survivors.
Late Thursday, three of the Jordanian survivors, including former Interior Minister Suleiman Arrar and his brother Khaled, and Salim Abdel Salim arrived in Amman from Saudi Arabia.
One of the survivors, former Jordanian Interior Minister Suleiman Arrar, said 'there was a fight between a security man and a hijacker who was armed with a hand grenade or a bomb'.
Arrar, who arrived late Thursday in Amman from Saudi Arabia, told reporters he believed the explosion occured when the hijacker 'threw the hand grenade or the bomb' aboard the plane.
The three survivors were shown on Jordanian television apparently unharmed upon their arrival at the airport.
They were met at the airport by Prince Abdallah, the son of King Hussein of Jordan and Armed Forces Commander in Chief Sherif Zeid Bin Shaker and other senior officials.
No statments or details were given by the three survivors, but the Jordanian television, in its latest broadcast, reiterated that the Iraqi plane was hijacked.
The Saudi statement said at least 32 people were injured, most only slightly, and were taken to a hospital in Arar before being transferred to Baghdad at the request of Iraq. Twelve other people were not injured, the statement said.
The Jordanian television report said the jetliner was hijacked by gunmen shortly after taking off from Baghdad airport on a flight to Amman.