EgyptAir plane hijacked to Cyprus, most passengers freed
After the EgyptAir plane landed at Larnaca airport, the hijacker released all the people onboard except five foreign passengers and the crew, EgyptAir said.
About 60 people, including seven crew, had been onboard, Egyptian and Cypriot officials said. Since the release of passengers, more have said to be released.
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“The negotiations with the hijacker have resulted in the release of all the plane passengers with the exception of the crew and five foreigners,” the airline said in a statement.
Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said the plane’s pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had informed authorities that he was threatened by a passenger wearing a suicide explosives belt and forced him to land in Larnaca.
A Cyprus Foreign Ministry official said he could not confirm the man was rigged with explosives. The hijacking occurred in Cyprus’s flight information region. Further reports say the hijacker may have personal motives.
The hijacker had an ex-wife in Cyprus, CYBC said. Witnesses said the hijacker threw a letter on the apron of the airport in Larnaca, written in Arabic, asking that it be delivered to his ex-wife, who is Cypriot.
The Guardian quoted a foreign ministry official in Cairo, “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.”
The plane was an Airbus 320, Egypt’s aviation ministry said.
“It is not something which has to do with terrorism,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.
Asked if a woman was involved he said, “There is always a woman involved.”
There was some confusion over the identity of the hijacker. Eyptian state media named him as Ibrahim Samaha, an Egyptian, but gave no other details about him.
However, Gamal al-Omrawi, a deputy dean at Alexandria University, said that Samaha was a passenger on the plane and not the hijacker. He said he had spoken by phone to Samaha, who confirmed that he was one of the passengers who was released.
Egyptian MP Mustafa Bakry said in a tweet the hijacker was apparently seeking “political asylum.”
Passengers on the plane included eight Britons and 10 Americans, three security sources at Alexandria airport said.
Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the hijacking, according to an Israeli military source.
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Egypt’s vital tourism industry was already reeling from the crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai in late October.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said it was brought down by a terrorist attack. Islamic State has said it planted a bomb on board, killing all 224 people on board.
Cyprus has seen little militant activity for decades, despite its proximity to the Middle East.
A botched attempt by Egyptian commandos to storm a hijacked airliner at Larnaca airport led to the disruption of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Egypt in 1978.
In 1988, a Kuwaiti airliner which had been hijacked from Bangkok to Kuwait in a 16-day siege had a stopover in Larnaca, where two hostages were killed.