Algeria was in a state of civil war at the time of the hijacking. Aircraft flying to Algiers faced the possibility of missile attacks. As a result, Air France's flights to Algiers had crews entirely made of people who volunteered for the route. Air France had asked government officials if it absolutely had to continue flying to Algeria; as of the time of the hijacking, but they never gave Air France a reply. Bernard Delhemme was the captain of the flight. Jean-Paul Borderie was the copilot, and Alain Bossuat was the flight engineer. The Airbus A300B2-1C, tail number F-GBEC, had first flown on 28 February 1980.
On 24 December 1994, at Houari Boumedienne Airport, Algiers, Algeria, four armed men dressed as Algerian presidential police boarded Air France Flight 8969 bound to depart for Orly Airport, Paris at 11:15 am. The men had blue uniforms with Air Algérie logos. Their presence originally did not cause alarm. Two of them began inspecting the passengers' passports while one went into the cockpit and the fourth stood guard. Claude Burgniard, a flight attendant, recalled noticing that the "police" were armed and one hijacker had dynamite showing; she considered this as unusual as the Algerian police were not usually armed while performing checks. The Algerian military felt suspicion when it noticed that the Air France flight had what appeared to be an unauthorised delay, so members began surrounding the aircraft. Zahida Kakachi, a passenger, recalled seeing a group of Special Intervention Group, known as "ninjas," outside the aircraft. Kakachi recalled hearing one of the "police" say "taghut," an Arabic word for "infidel", upon seeing the "ninjas" gathering outside the A300; therefore, she discovered that they were terrorists. The four men revealed then that they were not police, but mujahideen seeking to establish an Islamic state in Algeria. The men hijacked the aircraft because, as a part of the national airline Air France, it was a symbol of France, which they viewed as infidel foreign invaders.
The leader, Abdul Abdullah Yahia, already a notorious murderer, and the other three members of the Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armé, or GIA) brandished firearms and explosives and announced their allegiance to the Armed Islamic Group, demanding co-operation from the 220 passengers and 12 flight crew. The hijackers had Kalashnikov assault rifles, Uzi submachine guns, pistols, homemade hand grenades, and two 10-stick dynamite packs. At one point in the flight, the men placed one pack of dynamite in the cockpit and one pack under a seat in the middle of the aircraft. The men linked them with detonator wire. They also took the uniforms of the pilots to confuse Algerian army snipers.
Allah has chosen us to die and Allah has chosen you to die with us. Allah guarantees our success, Insha'Allah.
Burgniard recalled that the hijackers, mostly Lotfi, did not like seeing a lack of adherence to their Islamic beliefs; according to Burgniard, the hijackers objected to men and women sitting together and sharing the same toilets and women having uncovered heads. Once they took control of the aircraft, the hijackers forced women with uncovered heads, including the cabin crew members, to cover their heads. Women who did not have veils used aircraft blankets to cover their heads. An elderly Algerian man told the TF1 network that the hijackers "had a kind of art in their terror. Twenty minutes of relaxation and twenty minutes of torture. You never knew what was next."