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EgyptAir Ordeal Ends, Hijacker Surrenders

Egyptian PM Sherif Ismail said the hijacker had asked to meet EU officials or to fly to another airport.

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A passenger leaves the hijacked EgyptAir aircraft after landing at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus. (Photo: AP)

An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday. However, the passengers and crew were freed unharmed and the hijacker, whose motives remained a mystery, was arrested after he had surrendered to the authorities.

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

Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker’s motives. Cypriot officials said that early on it did not appear related to terrorism but then Cypriot state broadcaster reported that he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca airport, negotiations began and everyone onboard was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.

Soon after his comments, Cypriot television footage showed several people deboarding and a man climbing out of the cockpit window and running away.

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The hijacker then surrendered to authorities.

“It’s over,” the Cypriot foreign ministry said in a tweet.

Speaking to reporters after the crisis ended, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the hijacker was an Egyptian national but that his motives remained unclear.

Sometimes he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and some other times he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific. 
Sherif Ismail, Egyptian Prime Minister

Cypriot foreign ministry official Alexandros Zenon told reporters during the crisis that the hijacker appeared to be “unstable”.

Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said the plane’s pilot, Omar al-Gamal said 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.

Photographs shown on an Egyptian state television channel showed a middle-aged man on a plane wearing glasses and displaying a white belt with bulging pockets and protruding wires.

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Fethy, the Egyptian minister, said authorities suspected the suicide belt was not genuine but treated the incident as serious to ensure the safety of all those on board.

Our passengers are all well and the crew is all well... We cannot say this was a terrorist act... he was not a professional. 

In the midst of the crisis, witnesses said the hijacker had thrown a letter at the air hostess in Larnaca, written in Arabic, asking that it be delivered to his ex-wife, who is Cypriot.

But the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) said the hijacker had asked for the release of women prisoners in Egypt, suggesting a political motive.

The plane remained on the tarmac at Larnaca throughout the morning while Cypriot security forces took up positions around the scene.

The incident has raised renewed questions about airport security in Egypt though it was not clear whether the hijacker was even armed. Ismail said stringent measures were in place.

There was also some confusion over the identity of the hijacker. Egypt’s official state news agency MENA initially named him as Egyptian national Ibrahim Samaha but later said the hijacker was called Seif Eldin Mustafa.

The Cypriot Foreign Affairs Ministry also identified the hijacker as Mustafa.

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.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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