Hi­jack­ers of Libyan plane sur­ren­der in Malta

All 111 pas­sen­gers freed, 2 ‘Gaddafi loy­al­ists’ ar­rested

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

VAL­LETTA:

Hi­jack­ers claim­ing to have a grenade took over a Libyan plane yesterday and di­verted it to Malta be­fore re­leas­ing ev­ery­one on­board and sur­ren­der­ing to au­thor­i­ties, of­fi­cials said. “Fi­nal crew mem­bers leav­ing air­craft with hi­jack­ers,” Mal­tese Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat said on Twit­ter.Tele­vi­sion pic­tures showed two men being led from the air­craft in hand­cuffs. The prime tweeted min­utes later, “hi­jack­ers sur­ren­dered, searched and taken into cus­tody.”

Libyan For­eign Min­is­ter Ta­her Siala said the two hi­jack­ers were sup­port­ers of slain dic­ta­tor Muam­mar Gaddafi had re­quested po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in Malta. Siala, from Libya’s in­ter­na­tion­ally backed Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord, said the hi­jack­ers have also said they want to set up a pro-Gaddafi po­lit­i­cal party.

The plane landed at 11.32 am (1032 GMT) in Malta. Af­ter more than an hour on the tar­mac, the door of the Air­bus A320 opened and a first group of women and chil­dren were seen de­scend­ing a mo­bile stair­case. Dozens more pas­sen­gers were re­leased min­utes later fol­low­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions that Mal­tese gov­ern­ment sources said were led by the head of Malta’s mil­i­tary. In all there were 111 pas­sen­gers, in­clud­ing 28 women and a baby, on board, as well as seven crew mem­bers. Mal­tese gov­ern­ment sources had ear­lier said only a sin­gle hi­jacker was be­lieved to be on the plane. The air­craft had been on a do­mes­tic Libyan route op­er­ated by Afriqiyah Air­ways from Sabha in south­ern Libya to the cap­i­tal Tripoli but was re-routed.

Stand­off on tar­mac

“The Afriqiyah flight from Sabha to Tripoli has been di­verted and has landed in Malta. Se­cu­rity ser­vices co­or­di­nat­ing op­er­a­tions,” Mus­cat tweeted ear­lier.

MP Hadi Al-Saghir told Reuters that Ab­dusalem Mra­bit, a fel­low mem­ber of Libya’s House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the plane, had told him the two hi­jack­ers were in their mid-20s and were from the Tebu eth­nic group in south­ern Libya. Troops were po­si­tioned a few hun­dred me­tres (yards) from the plane as it stood on the tar­mac. Sev­eral other flights at the air­port were can­celled or di­verted. A se­nior Libyan se­cu­rity of­fi­cial told Reuters that when the plane was still in flight yesterday morn­ing the pi­lot told the con­trol tower at Tripoli’s Mit­iga air­port it had been hi­jacked. “Then they lost com­mu­ni­ca­tion with him,” the of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity. “The pi­lot tried very hardto have them land at the cor­rect des­ti­na­tion but they re­fused.” The air­craft had been fly­ing from Sebha in south­west Libya to Tripoli for state-owned Afriqiyah Air­ways, a trip that would usu­ally take a lit­tle over two hours.

Libyan air­lines banned in Europe

Mus­cat later spoke to Libya’s prime min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Fayez Al-Sar­raj, the head of the north African coun­try’s fledg­ling unity gov­ern­ment, the Mal­tese prime min­is­ter’s of­fice said. The plane could be seen on the tar­mac of a se­condary run­way sur­rounded by mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles. All flights in and out of the air­port were ini­tially ei­ther de­layed or di­verted to des­ti­na­tions in Italy, though some later took off and landed. Malta In­ter­na­tional Air­port said there had been “an un­law­ful in­ter­fer­ence” but op­er­a­tions had now re­sumed.

An Afriqiyah Air­ways source said the two hi­jack­ers had threat­ened the pi­lots with an ex­plo­sive de­vice, prob­a­bly a grenade, forc­ing them to con­tinue to Malta in­stead of land­ing at Tripoli’s Mit­iga air­port. Libya has been in a state of chaos since the 2011 over­throw of Muam­mar Gaddafi left war­ring mili­tias bat­tling for con­trol of dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try.

Forces loyal to a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment re­cently took con­trol of the coastal city of Sirte, which had been a bas­tion for the Is­lamic State group since June 2015. West­ern pow­ers have pinned their hopes of con­tain­ing ji­hadism in the en­ergy-rich North African state on the gov­ern­ment but it has failed to es­tab­lish its au­thor­ity over all of the coun­try. A ri­val au­thor­ity rules the coun­try’s far east, backed by the forces un­der mil­i­tary strong­man Mar­shal Khal­ifa Haf­tar who have been bat­tling ji­hadists in sec­ond city Beng­hazi. Only lo­cal air­lines-banned from Euro­pean airspace-op­er­ate in Libya, with flights to Tunis, Cairo, Am­man, Is­tan­bul and Khar­toum. —AFP

VAL­LETTA: An Afriqiyah Air­ways plane sits on the tar­mac at Malta’s Luqa In­ter­na­tional air­port as mil­i­tary per­son­nel ap­proach it yesterday. —AP

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