Saturday 10 December 2016

Hijacker arrested after EgyptAir plane hostage drama

Published 29/03/2016 | 08:06

The hijacked EgyptAir aircraft after it landed at Larnaca airport (AP)
The hijacked EgyptAir aircraft after it landed at Larnaca airport (AP)

An Egyptian who hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight and forced it to land in Cyprus was taken into custody after releasing all passengers and crew unharmed following an hours-long stand off.

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Officials said early on that the hijacking was not an act of terrorism, and later that the man appeared to be psychologically unstable.

"From the start, it was clear that this wasn't an act of terrorism, and despite the fact that the individual appeared to be dangerous in terms of his behaviour, we understood that this was a psychologically unstable person," Cyprus' Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told reporters.

He said the man - wearing a fake explosives belt - initially asked to speak with his Cypriot ex-wife, who police brought to the airport.

"After that, he started asking for European Union representatives to assure him about matters that had no logical basis," Kasoulides said.

At one point the hijacker demanded the release of women held in Egyptian prisons, but he then dropped the demand and made others. "His demands made no sense or were too incoherent to be taken seriously," the minister said, adding that the contents of a letter the hijacker wanted to give to his ex-wife "were also incoherent".

Egypt's Interior Ministry identified the hijacker as 58-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa. It said he has a long criminal record, with charges including forgery, theft and drug possession. He had also served time in prison, it said.

The ministry posted surveillance camera footage on its Facebook page that it said showed Mustafa being thoroughly searched at the airport. It said his handbag contained items which he later used to "give the impression that he is wearing an explosive belt."

Police in Cairo were questioning the hijacker's relatives.

Just minutes before the arrest, local TV footage from the airport showed several people disembarking from the Airbus A320 and a man who appeared to be a crew member climbing out of the cockpit window and sliding down the side of the plane. The hijacker had earlier freed most of the passengers but kept on board seven people - four crew members and three passengers.

A Cypriot police official said the hijacker walked off the plane and was taken into custody by anti-terrorism police. He said the man wore a belt, but it contained no explosives. Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said man was wearing a fake explosives belt.

Flight MS181 took off on Tuesday morning from Bourg el-Arab airport just outside the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria en route to Cairo with at least 55 passengers, including 26 foreigners, and a seven-member crew.

The Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry said the foreigners on board included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. Three other foreigners could not be identified.

Egyptian passenger Farah el-Dabani told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiyah TV network that the hijacker was seated in the back of the aircraft and that it was the crew who told passengers that the plane was being hijacked.

"There was panic at the beginning, but the crew told us to be quiet. They did a good job to keep us all quiet so the hijacker does not do anything rash," she said.

Press Association

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