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Larnaca, Cyprus | AFP |
The hijacker of an EgyptAir plane diverted to Cyprus 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.
Everyone on board the hijacked EgyptAir flight has been released except for four crew members and three passengers, Egypt’s civil aviation minister said.
Sherif Fathy told a press conference that the captain, a co-pilot, an air hostess and a security man remained on board, along with the three passengers.
He said there had been 55 passengers on board the plane, which was headed from Alexandria to Cairo, when the hijacker demanded it land in either Turkey or Cyprus.
“He had no gun or anything. We don’t know yet whether his (explosives) belt is real but for the safety of passengers we are dealing with it as real,” he said.
A plane will head to Larnaca to pick up the released passengers, he said.
Meanwhile, the hijacking is not related to terrorism, the island’s Cyprus 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.
Asked about reports that the hijacker had demanded to see a Cypriot woman, Anastasiades said: “Always there is a woman.”
Cyprus’s Sigma television reported that the woman had been brought to the airport from her home village of Oroklini, accompanied by a young child.
State radio had earlier reported that the man was demanding asylum and had asked for a translator.
Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Twitter that Anastasiades had spoken by telephone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The incident came 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.
Larnaca is no stranger to hostage crises. Several hijacked planes were diverted to the airport in the last few decades.
In August 1996, a Sudan Airways Airbus A-310 was hijacked by seven Iraqis between Khartoum and Amman with 199 people on board. After a stopover in Larnaca it flew on to London’s Stansted airport, where the hijackers gave themselves up.
In 1988, a Kuwait Airways flight hijacked en route from Bangkok to Kuwait was diverted to Iran’s second city Mashhad and later to Larnaca, where hijackers killed two Kuwaiti passengers and dumped their bodies on the tarmac.
In February 1978, an Egyptian commando unit stormed a hijacked Cyprus Airways DC-8 at Larnaca airport, where 15 passengers were being held hostage. Some 15 Egyptian soldiers were killed and 15 wounded in a firefight with Cypriot forces. All the hostages were freed and the hijackers arrested.