EgyptAir hijacker arrested, all hostages safe
The hijacker, who officials said was motivated by personal reasons and who had reportedly claimed to be wearing an explosives belt, was detained after several tense hours at Larnaca airport where the plane had landed. “The hijacker has just been arrested,” Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Twitter. No further details were immediately available.
An eye-witness saw a man emerging from the aircraft, walking across the tarmac and then raising his hands to two awaiting counter-terrorism officers. They laid him on the ground and searched him for around two minutes before taking him away. Passengers and crew had earlier been seen leaving the aircraft, including one who climbed out of the cockpit window.
“The passengers are safe and the crew is safe,” Egypt’s civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy said on state television minutes after Cyprus said the hijacker had been taken into custody.
Egypt’s Prime Minister Sharif Ismail said in televised remarks that the alleged hijacker was an Egyptian and had demanded to speak to a European Union representative.
Officials earlier said there was no link to “terrorism” in the incident and that the hijacker had demanded to see a Cypriot woman who was his estranged lover, with whom he had children. “This is not about terrorism. This is about the individual action of a person who is psychologically unstable,” said the Cypriot foreign ministry’s permanent secretary, Alexandros Zenon. The EgyptAir plane landed at the airport in the southern coastal city of Larnaca at 8:50 am (1120 IST), after the hijacker had contacted the control tower 20 minutes earlier to demand the diversion.
Egyptian civil aviation said he had threatened to detonate an explosives belt on the Airbus A-320, which had been headed from the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria to Cairo.
Most of the passengers were allowed to disembark after the plane landed, but a handful of crew and passengers had remained on board until shortly before the hijacker’s arrest. Fathy had told a press conference that the captain, a co-pilot, an air hostess and a security guard, along with three passengers, had remained on board after other passengers and crew were released.
Fathy said there had been 55 passengers on board the plane and that the hijacker had demanded it land in either Turkey or Cyprus. The plane had been carrying 21 foreigners including eight Americans, four Dutch citizens, four Britons and a French citizen, an Egyptian civil aviation ministry statement said.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades had earlier told reporters the incident appeared to be motivated by personal reasons. “The hijacking is not terrorism-related,” he told a joint news conference with the visiting president of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz. Asked about reports that the hijacker had demanded to see a Cypriot woman, Anastasiades laughed and said: “Always there is a woman.”
The plane had been parked on the tarmac away from the new terminal building but just 200 metres from a beach where dozens of foreign tourists were out. The airport, the main entry point for tourists to the resort island, was closed and incoming flights diverted to Paphos.