Malta hijack ends peacefully as Gaddafi loyalists surrender

Updated: Dec 24, 2016, 08:24 IST | Agencies |

Hijackers armed with a grenade and pistols forced an airliner to land in Malta on Friday then freed all their hostages unharmed and surrendered, after declaring their loyalty to Libya's late leader Muammar Gaddafi

A crew member helps a hostage to disembark from the Afriqiyah Airways A320 after it was hijacked from Libya on Friday. Pic/AFP
A crew member helps a hostage to disembark from the Afriqiyah Airways A320 after it was hijacked from Libya on Friday. Pic/AFP

Valletta: Hijackers armed with a grenade and pistols forced an airliner to land in Malta on Friday then freed all their hostages unharmed and surrendered, after declaring their loyalty to Libya's late leader Muammar Gaddafi. 

Television pictures showed two men being led from the aircraft in handcuffs.

The prime minister of the tiny Mediterranean island, Joseph Muscat, tweeted "hijackers surrendered, searched and taken into custody".

The Airbus A320 had been on an internal flight in Libya on Friday morning when it was diverted to Malta, 500 km (300 miles) north of the Libyan coast, after a man told the crew he had a hand grenade.

A Libyan television channel reported it had spoken by phone with a hijacker who described himself as head of a pro-Gaddafi party.

Gaddafi was killed in an uprising in 2011, and Libya has been racked by factional violence since.

Buses were driven onto the tarmac at Malta International Airport to carry away 109 passengers, as well as some of the crew.

Television footage showed no signs of struggle or alarm. After passengers had left the plane, a man briefly appeared at the top of the steps with a plain green flag resembling that of Gaddafi's now-defunct state.

Libya's Channel TV station said one hijacker, who gave his name as Moussa Shaha, had said by phone he was the head of Al-Fateh Al-Jadid, or The New Al-Fateh. Al-Fateh is the name that Gaddafi gave to September, the month he staged a coup in 1969, and the word came to signify his coming to power.

In a tweet, the TV station later quoted the hijacker as saying: "We took this measure to declare and promote our new party."

Earlier, the Malta airport authority said all emergency teams had been dispatched to the site of what it called an "unlawful interference" on the airport tarmac.

Earlier, Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat said in a tweet that there was a "potential hijack situation" involving an internal Libyan flight that was diverted to Malta and that emergency operations are underway at the airport. 

"Informed of potential hijack situation of a #Libya internal flight diverted to #Malta. Security and emergency operations standing by -JM," the premier said in a post from his official account.

Airport officials said the Afriqiyah Airways A320 flight has 118 passengers on board.

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