Two armed men hijacked a bus carrying more than two dozen passengers early yesterday, threatening to blow it up with explosives unless they were taken to the airport and put on planes, police and government officials said.
The men were also demanding 1 million euros (US$1.33 million).
The men seized control of the bus at 5:50am about 17km east of the city center, but as of press time, 10 hosatages had been released.
The bus driver and a passenger escaped soon after the hijacking, and five others were released about six hours into the standoff, officials said.
Government sources confirmed the two men were demanding that a driver take them to the airport, but their identities remained unclear.
One hijacker reportedly told a Greek TV station he wanted to go to Russia, and state-run NET television said representatives of the Russian embassy were on the scene.
Albanian ambassador Bashkim Zeneli said police also asked for his help because they thought the hijackers were Albanian.
The hijackers were armed with at least one pump-action shotgun, which they were seen firing out of a bus window. It was unclear whether they actually had explosives.
Outside, police -- some carrying armored shields -- were crouching near the bus. Snipers were on nearby rooftops and police parked a van in front of the bus to prevent it from driving away. Negotiators were at the scene.
But the hijackers released three more hostages as of press time, bringing the total number set free so far to 10.
The hostages, released nearly 11 hours after the bus was hijacked, were two women and a man. A total of 16 passengers remained on the bus.
The hijackers had earlier released seven hostages. The bus had 26 passengers aboard when it was first hijacked.
The suspects had boarded the bus at a stop in the suburb of Geraka just before dawn, firing warning shots through the roof, police said.
"Tell them to move the van from in front of us or we will blow up the bus," the man said in Greek to Athens' Alpha television station. "Tell them to get all the police away from here. We want to go to the airport and fly to Russia. All passengers will get off there. We haven't harmed anyone, but if the driver is delayed, I said that I will strike."
Hostage Stella Matara told NET that the hijackers said they would release the women in return for a driver and set free the remaining passengers once they arrived at the airport.