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Love twist to EgyptAir hijacking tale, starring ‘unstable’ man

An Egyptian man who hijacked an EgyptAir jet during a domestic flight to Cairo and forced it to land on the island of Cyprus on Tuesday was arrested. He was taken into custody after he released all the passengers and crew unharmed.

world Updated: Mar 29, 2016 21:41 IST
EgyptAir hijacking,EgyptAir plane in Cyprus,Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades
Passengers on the hijacked EgyptAir Airbus A-320 run on the tarmac after leaving the plane.(AFP)

An Egyptian man who hijacked an EgyptAir plane and forced it to divert to Cyprus demanding to see his ex-wife surrendered on Tuesday after a six-hour airport standoff ended peacefully.

The hijacker, described by officials as “unstable”, claimed to be wearing a bomb belt but no explosives were discovered after he gave himself up at Larnaca airport and was arrested.

He tried to communicate with his Cypriot ex-wife, who lives on the island, and the hijacking was not terrorism-related, officials said.

Most of the 55 passengers were quickly released after the plane landed but some escaped only minutes before the hijacker surrendered, including one man who climbed out a cockpit window.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking was “not something that has to do with terrorism,” and a government official said the man “seems (to be) in love.”

“This is about the individual action of a person who is psychologically unstable,” said the Cypriot foreign ministry’s permanent secretary, Alexandros Zenon.

The Egyptian interior ministry identified the man as Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa.

Read: EgyptAir plane hijacker ‘unstable’: Unusual cases since 2001

The man reportedly dropped a letter in Arabic on the tarmac, making a number of rambling demands including to see his Cypriot ex-wife, with whom he has children.

Police said she was brought to the airport along with a child but provided no further details.

The hijacker also complained about the Egyptian government and demanded the release of female prisoners from Egyptian jails.

“He is not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy, but they are not stupid,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

Anastasiades told reporters the incident appeared to be motivated by personal reasons.

Asked about reports that the hijacker had demanded to see a Cypriot woman, Anastasiades laughed and said: “Always there is a woman.” His response drew laughter.

After searching the hijacker and sending sniffer dogs into the plane, Cypriot police said no bombs were found.

The EgyptAir plane, which was headed from the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria to Cairo, landed in Larnaca at 8:50am (0550 GMT), after the hijacker had contacted the control tower 20 minutes earlier to demand the diversion.

Egyptian civil aviation said he threatened to detonate an explosives belt --- which was found to be fake -- on the Airbus A-320.

Egypt’s Prime Minister Sharif Ismail said in televised remarks that the hijacker was an Egyptian and had demanded to speak to a European Union representative.

Read: EgyptAir hijack ends with passengers freed, suspect arrested

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus A-320, which was diverted to Cyprus, leaves the plane before surrendering to security forces after a six-hour standoff on the tarmac at Larnaca airport's largely disused old terminal. (AFP)

Cockpit window escape

Egyptian civil aviation officials said there were 21 foreigners among the passengers, and that the hijacker had demanded the plane land in either Turkey or Cyprus.

They included eight Americans, four Dutch citizens, four Britons and a French citizen, according to the Egyptian authorities.

Nearly all of the passengers were able to disembark shortly after the plane landed, but Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Sherif Fathy, told a press conference that the captain, a co-pilot, a flight attendant and a security guard, along with three passengers, had remained on board.

They were later seen exiting the aircraft, with several descending the steps from the plane and one clambering out of a cockpit window and dropping to the ground.

A man then emerged, walked across the tarmac and raised his hands to two waiting counter-terrorism officers. They laid him on the ground and searched him for around two minutes before taking him away.

At 2:43 pm, Cypriot government spokesperson Nicos Christodoulides said on Twitter that “the hijacker has just been arrested”.

Officials in both Cyprus and Egypt then confirmed that all crew and passengers were safe.

Flights diverted

Authorities closed the airport -- the main entry point for tourists to the resort island -- and nearby beaches during the incident. Incoming flights were diverted to Paphos on the island’s western edge. The airport was later reopened.

Concerns were raised about security at Egyptian airports after a Russian airliner was downed on October 31 over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. The Islamic State group claimed to have smuggled a bomb on board the plane.

In pics: EgyptAir plane hijacked, taken to Cyprus; passengers released

Unidentified people leave the hijacked EgyptAir Airbus A320 at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus. (REUTERS)

First Published: Mar 29, 2016 20:22 IST