EgyptAir hijacked: All passengers freed except for crew, non-Egyptians
A hijacker seized an Egyptian airliner on Tuesday (Mar 29) and diverted it to Cyprus, triggering a hostage crisis at Larnaca airport on the south coast, Cypriot police said.
Egyptian civil aviation said the hijacker had threatened to detonate an explosives belt on board EgyptAir flight MS181.
The hijacker contacted the control tower at 8:30 am (0530 GMT) and the plane was given permission to land at 8:50 am, Cyprus police said.
EgyptAir confirmed there were 56 passengers on board, as well as seven crew and one security official. Among the passengers were 21 foreigners including eight Americans, four Dutch citizens, four Britons and a French citizen, an Egyptian civil aviation ministry statement said.
A crisis team was deployed to the airport, the main entry point for tourists to the Mediterranean resort island.
The airline tweeted: “Our Flight MS181 is officially hijacked, we’ll publish an official statement now.”
The hijacker made no immediate demands and later allowed all Egyptian passengers to disembark, Cypriot state television reported. Women and children were seen disembarking.
The hijacker also asked police to back away from the aircraft, the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation reported.
EgyptAir confirmed all on board except for the flight crew members and four non-Egyptians were released.
“EGYPTAIR confirms that it is following up with the concerned authorities in Cyprus through EGYPTAIR IOCC and negotiations are undergoing with the highjacker,” the airline said in a release.
Later, at least five more people were released from the hijacked EgyptAir plane, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. The five, wearing what appeared to be crew uniforms, could be seen descending from the aircraft, the correspondent said.
Egyptian state TV identified the hijacker as Ibrahim Samaha. He has demanded asylum on the Mediterranean island, state radio said. The man also asked for a translator to press his demand, it added, without providing further details.
The hijacker has an estranged Cypriot wife he has demanded to see and who is being brought to Larnaca airport, a government source said. The woman lives in the village of Oroklini not far from the airport, the source told AFP.
Witnesses said the hijacker threw a letter on the apron of the airport in Larnaca, written in Arabic, asking that it be delivered to his ex-wife, who is Cypriot.
Cyprus closed Larnaca airport after the hijacking. Flights to Larnaca in the south were diverted to the Paphos airport in the west, the officials said.
HIJACK NOT TERRORISM-RELATED
The hijacking of an EgyptAir plane to Cyprus on Tuesday is not related to terrorism, the island’s President Nicos Anastasiades said.
“The hijacking is not terrorism-related,” he told a joint news conference with the visiting president of the European Parliament Martin Schultz.
Anastasiades said the Cyprus government had done everything it could to ensure the safe release of the passengers, most of whom were reported to have been set free.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, “the competent crisis management plans of the Republic of Cyprus had been initiated from the beginning of the incident.”
A Ministerial Committee was handling the situation at the National Crisis Center, the ministry said in its announcement. “Direct communication was also established between the Center and the Egyptian authorities.”
Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the plane hijacking, according to an Israeli military source.
Larnaca is no stranger to hostage crises. Several hijacked planes were diverted to the airport in the 1970s and 1980s.