Wed, Mar 30, 2016 - Page 1 News List

EgyptAir airplane hijack ends with passengers freed

Reuters, LARNACA, Cyprus and CAIRO

An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus yesterday, but the passengers and crew were freed unharmed and the alleged hijacker, whose motives remained a mystery, was arrested after giving himself up.

Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, had been aboard the Airbus 320 flight when it took off, Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said in a statement.

Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker’s motives, with Cypriot officials saying early on that the incident did not appear related to terrorism, but the Cypriot state broadcaster saying he had demanded the release of female prisoners in Egypt.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca Airport, negotiations began and everyone aboard was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypian Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fethy said.

Soon after his comments, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via stairs and another man climbing out of a cockpit window and running off.

A man then surrendered to authorities.

Speaking to reporters after the crisis ended, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the alleged hijacker was an Egyptian but that his motives remained unclear.

“At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport, but there was nothing specific,” he said, adding that the man would now be questioned to ascertain his motives.

Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Alexandros Zenon told reporters during the crisis that the hijacker appeared to be “unstable.”

Egypt’s Ministry of Civil Aviation said the plane’s pilot Omar al-Gammal had informed authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who claimed to be wearing a suicide explosives belt and forced him to divert the plane to Larnaca.

Photographs shown on Egyptian state television showed a middle-aged man on a plane wearing glasses and displaying a white belt with bulging pockets and protruding wires.

Fethy said authorities suspected the suicide belt was not genuine but treated the incident as serious to ensure the safety of all those aboard.

“Our passengers are all well and the crew is all well... We cannot say this was a terrorist act... He was not a professional,” Fethy told reporters after the incident.

In the midst of the crisis, witnesses said the hijacker had thrown a letter on the apron in Larnaca, written in Arabic, asking that it be delivered to his ex-wife, who is Cypriot.

However, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corp said the hijacker had asked for the release of women prisoners in Egypt, suggesting a political motive.

There was some confusion over the identity of the hijacker. Egypt’s official state news agency MENA initially named him as Egyptian national Ibrahim Samaha, but later said the hijacker was called Seif Eldin Mustafa.

The Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs also identified the hijacker as Mustafa.

Passengers on the plane included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a Syrian and French national, the ministry said.

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