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Hijacked Egyptian airliner lands in Cyprus

29 march, 14:56
0
An Egypt Air Airbus A-320 sits on the tarmac of Larnaca aiport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. ©AFP
An Egypt Air Airbus A-320 sits on the tarmac of Larnaca aiport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus. ©AFP

A hijacker seized an Egyptian airliner on Tuesday and diverted it to Cyprus, before releasing all the passengers except four foreigners and the crew, officials and the airline are quoted by AFP as saying.

Cyprus state radio said the man was demanding asylum in the Mediterranean island nation.

The hijacker has an estranged Cypriot wife he has demanded to see and who is being brought to Larnaca airport, a government source said.

The woman lives in the village of Oroklini not far from the airport, the source told AFP.

The man, who is not Egyptian, asked for a translator to press his demand, it added, without providing further details.

Egyptian civil aviation said the hijacker had threatened to detonate an explosives belt on the EgyptAir flight which was diverted to Cyprus's southern coastal city of Larnaca.

EgyptAir said on Twitter that "negotiations with the hijacker" had resulted in "the release of all the passengers, except the crew and four foreigners."

The identities of the foreigners was not immediately clear.

Cyprus police said the hijacker had contacted the control tower at 8:30 am (0530 GMT) and the plane was given permission to land at 8:50 am.

A crisis team was deployed to the airport, the main entry point for tourists to the Mediterranean resort island.

The plane was parked on the tarmac away from the new terminal building but just 200 metres (yards) from a beach where dozens of foreign tourists were out. 

The hijacked EgyptAir plane diverted to Cyprus on Tuesday carried 21 foreigners including eight Americans, four Dutch citizens, four Britons and a French citizen, an Egyptian civil aviation ministry statement said.

All passengers except four or five foreigners have been released, a ministry spokesman told AFP. 

The ministry said 81 passengers were on board, while EgyptAir in a statement said there were 55. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.

The aircraft was cordoned off by armed police.

The airport was closed during the crisis with incoming flights diverted to Paphos on the island's western edge.

The hijacker made no immediate demands, Cypriot state television reported.

The EgyptAir plane was headed from the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria to Cairo with 81 passengers on board when it was seized, Egyptian civil aviation said.

The airline tweeted: "Our Flight MS181 is officially hijacked."

The Cyprus foreign ministry confirmed in a statement that the flight "was hijacked and diverted to Larnaca international airport".

It said "crisis management plans" had been put in place and that the country's National Crisis Centre had been in contact with Egyptian authorities.

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Twitter that President Nicos Anastasiades had spoken by telephone with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The motive of the hijacking was not clear.

The incident came after a Russian airliner was downed on October 31 over the 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 1970s and 1980s. 

In 1988, a Kuwait Airways flight hijacked en route from Bangkok to Kuwait was diverted to 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. All the hostages were freed and the hijackers arrested.

By Charlie Charalambous with Samer Al-Atrush in Cairo


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