Athens hijackers surrender to end 18-hour bus siege

 

Two armed Albanian hijackers surrendered and released their hostages early this morning after seizing a bus in an Athens suburb and threatening to blow it up if a ransom was not paid. 

Police said a preliminary investigation indicated the two men, both 24, were motivated by money and had planned to take the bus to Albania.

The six remaining hostages left the bus from the driver's door following the 18-hour siege, and police then searched the vehicle. The two hijackers left the bus with their hands on their heads after throwing two shotguns out the door. No hostages were harmed.

The hijackers had initially seized 26 hostages, but the bus driver, a ticket inspector and a passenger escaped almost immediately.

The armed men then gradually released 17 other passengers throughout the day yesterday. Relatives of the hostages, who were waiting in a nearby supermarket, ran to hug them.

At one point during the standoff, a hijacker threatened to blow up the bus if authorities did not deliver a ransom of $1 million by dawn Thursday. They also initially demanded a new bus driver and told police they wanted to be taken to Athens airport and flown to Russia.

The Greek police chief said the two suspects were armed with shotguns but did not have explosives and the demand to go to the airport appeared to be a ruse to hide their real destination.

"A preliminary investigation shows they wanted the money and their goal was to go to Albania," he said.

The two men were identified as Gaz Resuli and Leonard Murati; they had apparently been living in Greece for the past six or seven years.

The hijackers seized control of the intercity bus at 5:.50 a.m. yesterday at a bus stop in the Athens suburb of Geraka, about 10 miles east of the city centre.

Police praised the driver for his escape, which immobilised the bus and gave authorities control over the situation.

AP