CAIRO: A hijacker who seized an Egyptian airliner and forced it to land in Cyprus has been detained, Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Tuesday.
“The hijacker has just been arrested,” Christodoulides said on Twitter, without providing further details.
An EgyptAir passenger plane flying from Cairo to Alexandria was hijacked on Tuesday and diverted to Cyprus, where it landed at Larnaca airport on the south coast, Cypriot police and Egyptian civil aviation authority officials said.
The suspected hijacker surrendered to authorities at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on Tuesday, Cypriot authorities said.
A man emerged from the aircraft and then walked across the tarmac with his hands up to two awaiting counter-terrorism police officers, an AFP correspondent reported.
They laid him on the ground and searched him for around two minutes before taking him away. “Its over,” Cyprus’s foreign ministry said in a tweet.
What we know so far:
- EgyptAir flight MS181 from Cairo to Alexandria diverted to Cyprus
- Hijacker was strapped with explosives: Egyptian civil aviation ministry
- About 81 people were on board the Airbus: Egyptian civil aviation ministry
- All passengers have been freed
- Hijacker initially wanted to fly to Istanbul: Egyptian government spokesman
- Larnaca airport closed: airport officials
Egyptian civil aviation ministry said 81 passengers were on board flight MS181, while EgyptAir in a statement said there were 55. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.
Larnaca airport was closed and a crisis team deployed to the site, airport officials said.
A civil aviation ministry statement said the hijacker, who was strapped with explosives, forced the pilot to divert the plane to Larnaca.
An Egyptian government spokesman said the hijacker initially wanted to go to Istanbul but was told by the captain that he did not have enough fuel for the journey.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades while addressing a joint press conference said the plane hijacking was not related to “terrorism”.
Most passengers freed
The flight carried 21 foreigners including eight Americans, four Dutch citizens, four Britons and a French citizen, an Egyptian civil aviation ministry statement said.
EgyptAir said it had negotiated the release of passengers, after which most passengers and some people wearing what appeared to be crew uniforms were allowed to disembark from the plane.
EgyptAir is offering those concerned about their loved ones possibly on the hijacked flight several telephone numbers to call for more information. EgyptAir says those within Egypt can call their emergency centre at 0800 7777 000 FREE, while those living abroad can call +20 2 259 893 2029.
A minister said Egypt is sending a plane to Cyprus to pick up the stranded passengers.
‘Hijacker may have personal motives’
Egypt’s state news agency and airport officials identified the hijacker as dual Egyptian-American citizen Ibrahim Samaha who was sitting on seat K38 on the plane, but Cyprus’ foreign ministry in a tweet said the hijacker was named Seif Eldin Mustafa and did not provide any further details.
Cyprus state radio claimed the hijacker, who may have personal motives, has demanded asylum on the Mediterranean island and asked for a translator to press his demand, without adding further details.
The hijacker had an ex-wife in Cyprus, Cyprus Broadcasting said.
Witnesses said the hijacker threw a letter written in Arabic on the apron of the airport in Larnaca, where the plane was parked, asking that it be delivered to his Cypriot ex-wife.
‘Flight appears completely controlled’
A hijacker contacted the control tower at 8:30 am and the plane was given permission to land at 8:50 am, the police said.
An official with a flight-tracking website says the EgyptAir flight that was hijacked on the way to Cairo showed no immediate signs of distress while in the air.
Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for FlightRadar24, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that flight MS181 flew in a typical fashion on to Cyprus without the pilots signalling any trouble via their transponder.
Petchenik said: “It looks like a completely controlled flight aside from the fact it was hijacked.”
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.