Estranged wife of hijacker diffuses EgyptAir crisis

Larnaca, Cyprus | AFP |

Authorities arrested the hijacker of an Egyptian airliner that was diverted to Cyprus on Tuesday, after the plane’s passengers and crew were able to escape unharmed. No explosives were found on the hijacker or on the plane.

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 AFP correspondent 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.

 Egypt Air Airbus A-320 on the tarmac of Larnaca aiport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. PHOTO BY AFPEgypt Air Airbus A-320 on the tarmac of Larnaca aiport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. PHOTO BY AFP

“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. (click here for relates story about estranged wife)

‘Psychologically unstable’

“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 (0550 GMT), 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.

Egypt Air flight routeEgypt Air flight route to Cyprus

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.”

Flights diverted

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.

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