The man who hijacked an EgyptAir plane flying between Alexandria and Cairo and ordered the pilot to divert to Larnaca in Cyprus has been arrested, according to the Cypriot foreign ministry and the airline.
A man emerged from the aircraft and then walked across the tarmac with his hands up to two awaiting counter-terrorism police officers, an AFP correspondent reported, saying they laid him on the ground and searched him for about two minutes before taking him away.
An official at Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs ruled out a terrorist motive, telling the Guardian “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,” they said.
Earlier, seven more people, thought to be the last of the crew and passengers who had remained with the hijacker on board, were seen leaving the plane. One man climbed out the cockpit window. Flight MS181 had 55 passengers on board when it was seized, Egyptian authorities said. All passengers and crew appeared to have been freed from the aircraft safely.
The Cyprus foreign ministry identified the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa.
There was confusion over his motivation: Egyptian prime minister Sherif Ismail said the man was an Egyptian national who had asked to meet European Union officials or to fly on to another airport.
Ismail told reporters that authorities would question the hijacker to ascertain his true motives, which remained a mystery.
“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.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Sharif Fathi, said he had not made any concrete demands, though according to reports and the Cyprus president, the hijacking is connected to a woman, believed to be the hijacker’s estranged wife, who reportedly arrived at the airport. The man is believed to have thrown a letter to her from the plane.
There were also unconfirmed reports that he had demanded the release of prisoners in Egypt.
Egyptian authorities said the hijacker had threatened to detonate an explosive belt, but did not know whether the belt was real or fake.
Addressing reporters with the visiting European parliament president, Martin Schulz, the Cypriot leader, Nikos Anastasiades, ruled out terrorism, saying instead that that the hijacking had been instigated by a man bent on reuniting with his former wife.
“It’s all to do with a woman,” he said. “We are doing everything to release the hostages.”
Cyprus police said the control tower was contacted at 8.30am (5.30am GMT) and the plane was given permission to land at 8.50am.
A statement from the Egyptian civil aviation ministry said foreign nationals on board included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch passengers, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. Three other foreigners could not be identified. The nationalities of those who remained on the plane were not given.
The plane was hijacked 30 minutes into its flight, according to officials. Less than an hour later, local TV showed about 40 women and children being allowed to leave the aircraft. The freed passengers were then put on buses and taken to terminal buildings.
Cyprus, the nearest EU member state to the Middle East, immediately declared a state of emergency, with the ministers of defence, foreign affairs and transport all being dispatched to the airport within minutes of the plane making its forced landing.
Airport authorities said all scheduled flights into Cyprus were being diverted to the island’s second international airport at Paphos.
The hijacking is likely to bring to the fore again the question of security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft crashed over Egypt’s Sinai peninsula minutes after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. All 224 people on board were killed in the crash. Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft and the extremist Islamic State group said it downed the plane. ( The Guardian)