Hi­jack­ing of Egyp­tAir flight ends peace­fully

Cape Breton Post - - WORLD -

An Egyp­tian wear­ing a fake ex­plo­sives belt who hi­jacked a do­mes­tic Egyp­tAir flight and forced it to land in Cyprus on Tues­day sur­ren­dered and was taken into cus­tody af­ter re­leas­ing all pas­sen­gers and crew un­harmed fol­low­ing an hours-long stand­off.

Of­fi­cials said early on that the hi­jack­ing was not an act of ter­ror­ism, and later that the man ap­peared to be psy­cho­log­i­cally un­sta­ble. How­ever, the in­ci­dent was likely to re­new con­cerns about Egyp­tian air­port se­cu­rity months af­ter a Rus­sian pas­sen­ger plane was downed over the Si­nai Penin­sula in a bomb­ing claimed by the Is­lamic State group.

“From the start, it was clear that this wasn’t an act of ter­ror­ism, and de­spite the fact that the in­di­vid­ual ap­peared to be dan­ger­ous in terms of his be­hav­iour, we un­der­stood that this was a psy­cho­log­i­cally un­sta­ble per­son,’’ Cyprus’ For­eign Min­is­ter Ioan­nis Ka­soulides told re­porters.

He said the man ini­tially asked to speak with his Cypriot ex-wife, who police brought to the air­port.

“Af­ter that, he started ask­ing for Euro­pean Union rep­re­sen­ta­tives to as­sure him about mat­ters that had no log­i­cal ba­sis,’’ Ka­soulides said.

At one point the hi­jacker de­manded the re­lease of women held in Egyp­tian pris­ons, but he then dropped the de­mand and made oth­ers. “His de­mands made no sense or were too in­co­her­ent to be taken se­ri­ously,’’ the min­is­ter said, adding that the con­tents of a let­ter the hi­jacker wanted to give to his ex-wife “were also in­co­her­ent.’’

Egypt’s In­te­rior Min­istry iden­ti­fied the hi­jacker as 58year-old Seif Ed­din Mustafa. It said he has a long crim­i­nal record, with charges in­clud­ing forgery, theft and drug pos­ses­sion. He had also served time in prison, it said.

The min­istry posted sur­veil­lance cam­era footage on its Face­book page that it said showed Mustafa be­ing thor­oughly searched at the air­port. It said his hand­bag con­tained items which he later used to “give the im­pres­sion that he is wear­ing an ex­plo­sive belt.’’

Police in Cairo were ques­tion­ing the hi­jacker’s rel­a­tives, Sharif Faisal, the police chief for the in­dus­trial sub­urb of Hel­wan, told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Just min­utes be­fore the ar­rest, lo­cal TV footage from the air­port showed sev­eral peo­ple dis­em­bark­ing from the Air­bus A320 and a man who ap­peared to be a crew mem­ber climb­ing out of the cock­pit win­dow and slid­ing down the side of the plane. The hi­jacker had ear­lier freed most of the pas­sen­gers but kept on board seven peo­ple _ four crew mem­bers and three pas­sen­gers.

A Cypriot police of­fi­cial, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to brief re­porters, said the hi­jacker walked off the plane and was taken into cus­tody by anti-ter­ror­ism police. He said the man wore a belt, but it con­tained no ex­plo­sives. Egypt’s Civil Avi­a­tion Min­istry said man was wear­ing a fake ex­plo­sives belt.

Flight MS181 took off Tues­day morn­ing from Bourg el-Arab air­port just out­side the Mediter­ranean coastal city of Alexan­dria en route to Cairo with at least 55 pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing 26 for­eign­ers, and a seven-mem­ber crew. The flight be­tween Alexan­dria and Cairo nor­mally takes about 30 min­utes.

Egyp­tian of­fi­cials gave con­flict­ing ac­counts as the drama un­folded. The Avi­a­tion Min­istry said in a state­ment that the hi­jacker was wear­ing an ex­plo­sives belt, which turned out to be un­true.

AP PHOTO

Police of­fi­cers stand guards by the fence of the air­port as a hi­jacked Egyp­tAir air­craft is seen af­ter land­ing at Lar­naca Air­port in Cyprus Tues­day.

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