EgyptAir hijacker arrested in Cyprus, hostages freed unharmed

Hijacker of EgyptAir airliner surrenders to authorities in Cyprus, all passengers and crew are safe

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Passengers evacuate a hijacked EgyptAir Airbus 320 plane at Larnaca airport, March 29, 2016.

An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday but the passengers and crew were freed unharmed and the hijacker, whose motives remained a mystery, was arrested after giving himself up.

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

The Greek Cypriot administration said in a tweet that the hijack was "over".The hijacker was seen leaving the aircraft with his hands in the air.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the man who hijacked an EgyptAir plane and diverted it to Cyprus was an Egyptian national who had asked to meet European Union officials or to fly on to another airport.

"At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific," he said, adding that authorities would question him to ascertain his true motives.

Greek Cypriot broadcaster CYBC had reported that the hijacker was strapped with explosives but Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement that Cypriot authorities later determined that the belt worn by the hijacker did not contain explosives.

"Security in Cyprus confirmed that the explosive belt worn by the man who hijacked the plane was fake," it said.

Greek Cypriot Administration's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday identified the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa in a tweet. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the hijacker appeared to be "psychologically unstable."

"Despite the fact that the individual appeared to be dangerous in terms of his behavior," the Associated Press qouted Kasoulides.

Local media had earlier identified the hijacker as a different man, Ibrahim Samaha, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria University.

However, Gamal al-Omrawi, a deputy dean at Alexandria Unversity, 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.

Witnesses said the hijacker threw a letter written in Arabic on the apron of the airport in Larnaca, asking that it be given to his ex-wife, who is Cypriot.

"It is not something which has to do with terrorism," Greek Cypriot Administration leader Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.

Asked if a woman was involved he said "There is always a woman involved."

But a Greek Cypriot broadcaster reported that the hijacker was asking for the release of prisoners in Egypt.

In a statement, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry said pilot Omar al-Gammal had informed authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who possessed a suicide belt and forced him to land in Larnaca.

The passengers included eight Britons and 10 Americans, three security sources at Alexandria airport said.

EgyptAir said in a tweet that a plane took off from Cairo International Airport heading to Larnaca Airport to pick up the stranded passangers, in which Egypt's Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fathi was on board. 

An official telephones from the ramp of a hijacked Egyptair A320 Airbus at Larnaca Airport, March 29, 2016.

Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the hijacking of the airplane, according to an Israeli military source.

The hijacking will most likely bring to the fore again the question of security at Egyptian airports, five months after the crash of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft and DAESH terror group said it downed the plane.

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. 

What do we know so far?

  • An EgyptAir domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked
  • Plane has been forced to land in Cyprus
  • Hijacker claimed to be Seif Eldin Mustafa
  • Hijacker surrendered after hours of negotiations
  • All passengers and crew have been freed
  • The hijacker is thought to have personal motives
  • Greek Cypriot Administration leader said hijacking is not terror-linked
  • Egypt sending plane to pick up released passengers
  • Explosive belt worn by hijacker was fake
  • Cypriot FM says hijacker psychologically "unstable"
TRTWorld and agencies