Sun, Aug 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Turkish hijacking ends peacefully after negotiations

AFP , ANKARA

Two men claiming to be al-Qaeda members who hijacked a Turkish plane with more than 140 people on board gave themselves up at an airport in southern Turkey, peacefully ending the five-hour drama.

"We contacted and held talks with the hijackers. Their surrender was secured through methods that I do not want to go into," Turkish Interior Minister Osman Gunes said.

"It ended without the need for an operation," he said, saying that a crack police team had been standing by in case negotiations failed.

Gunes identified one of the hijackers as Turkish national Mehmet Resat Ozlu, and the other as Mommen Abdul Aziz Talikh, who has a Syrian passport, but was believed to be of Palestinian origin.

According to the plane's passenger manifesto, Ozlu is described by the Anatolia news agency as a university student in the breakaway Turkish-held north of Cyprus. He is 27 years old and Talik is 25.

Turkish police also detained a third person, one of the passengers, as a suspected accomplice of the hijackers, said Alattin Yuksel, the governor of Antalya where the plane made an emergency landing.

Gunes declined to comment on reports that the hijackers were members of al-Qaeda and said police were questioning them to determine their motives and connections.

The minister added that police were also examining the contents of a package that the hijackers had claimed contained explosives. Media reports said police had found only modelling clay inside the package.

But one of the two men was carrying a knife on the plane.

The hijackers took over the Atlas Jet passenger plane, an MD-83, shortly after it took off from an airport in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus at 7:15am for Istanbul, officials said.

The airline said the plane was carrying 136 passengers and six crew, but governor Yuksel later said the plane had 140 passengers, including eight children, and five crew.

Minister Gunes said that the hijackers had demanded that the plane be diverted to the Iranian capital Tehran, or failing that to Syria. The pilots said they needed to refuel and landed in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya at 8:15 am.

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