Ex-files plays out at Cyprus airport

EgyptAir hijacker had demanded to see a Cypriot woman, his estranged lover who lives on the island; he was arrested

Cairo/Nicosia: An Egyptian man who hijacked an EgyptAir flight to Cyprus was arrested yesterday after hours of negotiations during which most passengers were freed and the last of the seven on board escaped.

A man believed to be the hijacker leaves the plane. Pic/AFP
A man believed to be the hijacker leaves the plane. Pic/AFP

The Cyprus foreign ministry announced the arrest of the hijacker, who had taken charge of the Airbus 320 when it was on its way from Alexandria to Cairo saying he was armed with explosives. The plane was flown to Larnaca in southern Cyprus.
Larnaca airport, on the south coast of Cyprus, and officials opened negotiations with the man, who was identified as Seif El Din Mustafa. The flight was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus by a man reportedly distressed over a family matter.

The man claimed he was wearing a suicide explosive belt. While some reports said he wanted to his estranged Cypriot wife, others said he sought the release of female prisoners in Egypt.

Hours after the plane landed in Larnaca, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking was not linked to terrorism. Officials said the man appeared to be in love with a woman living in Cyprus.

Flight 181 carried 56 passengers — 30 Egyptians and 26 foreigners — and six crew members. Soon after it reached Cyprus, all but seven passengers and crew were let off.

They quickly boarded buses to reach the terminal. EgyptAir said a special plane will bring them back to Egypt.

The foreigners on board included eight Americans, four Britons and four Dutch citizens, two Belgians and two Greeks, a French national, an Italian and a Syrian. Three other foreigners could not be identified.

Before the hijack drama ended, President Anastasiades said Cyprus was doing all it could to ensure the safe release of the passengers and crew.

Asked if the hijacker was motivated by love, he laughed and said: “Always there is a woman involved.” An unidentified civil aviation official in Cyprus was quoted by the media as saying that the man handed negotiators an envelope which he asked to be given to a woman in Cyprus.

Earlier, Egypt’s civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy had said negotiations with the hijacker were continuing but it was not clear whether the man indeed had explosives or was lying. The Egyptian aviation ministry had earlier said the hijacker had threatened to detonate an explosives belt, forcing the captain to divert the flight to Cyprus.

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