Fri, Dec 17, 2004 - Page 1 News List

All hostages safe as Athens bus hijack drama ends

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Athens

A daylong hostage siege ended early yesterday morning after two gunmen who had hijacked an Athens-bound commuter bus surrendered to the authorities and released their six remaining captives.

The gunmen, identified by the police as Albanians, earlier had threatened to blow up the bus and the six remaining hostages unless authorities met their demand for US$1.3 million and a plane to fly them out of the country.

One of the men, identifying himself as Hassan and speaking in broken Greek, phoned in the threat to a local television station about 14 hours after commandeering the bus at a suburban Athens bus stop.

Greek officials said after the 18-hour standoff ended that the two men had no explosives with them, only a rifle and a pistol, Agence France-Presse reported.

Over the course of the day, 17 of the 23 passengers trapped on the bus had been freed by their captors. But the caller then told the Mega television station that no more would be released until the Greek authorities responded to his ultimatum.

The motives and backgrounds of the gunmen, who earlier asked for a plane to fly them to Russia, remained unclear. In his phone call, the man who called himself Hassan insisted he was Russian, not Albanian.

Greek police commanders said the men had talked regularly with hostage negotiators by mobile phone. Some of the captives, who also spoke to relatives and local television stations on their cellphones, reported earlier that the men were nervous but were treating them well.

Greece has experienced a spate of bus hijackings over the last five years, most of them ending with the police killing the hostage takers.

In the years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Greece has received tens of thousands of immigrants from neighboring Albania.

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