September 19, 2018

EgyptAir Hijacking Suspect Arrested in Cyprus

A man climbs out of the cockpit window of the hijacked EgyptAir plane at Larnaca airport [Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters]

LARNACA/CAIRO: The nearly day-long hijack crisis at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport involving an EgyptAir plane is over with the arrest of the hijacker. Egypt media reports that the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, was seen emerging from the aircraft with his hands held up in the air.

An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday by Mustafa, who Cypriot state media said was demanding the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca airport, the hijacker started releasing everyone onboard following negotiations, civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy said. The final seven – three passengers and four crew – were seen coming out of the aircraft and running towards the security personnel who had surrounded the area.

Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, had been onboard the Airbus 320, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

The Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) and a private broadcaster, Antenna, said the hijacker was asking for the release of women prisoners in Egypt, suggesting a political motive.

He had also asked to get in touch with European Union officials, CyBC reported, citing a letter the hijacker dropped onto the apron at Larnaca airport.

While the reasons for the hijacking were not entirely clear, the incident will deal another blow to Egypt’s tourism industry and hurt efforts to revive an economy hammered by political unrest following the 2011 uprising.

The sector, a main source of hard currency, 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.

The latest reports on Tuesday’s hijacking contradict earlier statements by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and other Cypriot security sources suggesting the hijacker’s motives were personal and linked to an ex-wife who lived in Cyprus.

The civil aviation ministry said the plane’s pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had informed authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who claimed to be wearing a suicide explosives belt and forced him to divert the plane to Larnaca.

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 seige had a stopover in Larnaca, where two hostages were killed.
Egypt said it would send a plane to Cyprus to pick up stranded passengers, some of whom had been traveling to Cairo for connecting flights abroad.

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