Troops capture lone hijacker of plane after safe Moscow landing

 

Russian security forces seized a lone man who hijacked an airliner with about 140 people aboard yesterday, and all the hostages were released safely, airport and security officials said.

"Everyone is safe and sound," Mr Gennady Zaitsev, the head of Russia's Federal Aviation Service, told reporters at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow where the aircraft landed at about 11.30 a.m. (0830 GMT).

The hijacker seized the Ilyushin-62 airliner earlier yesterday after it took off from the Far Eastern city of Magadan en route to Moscow with about 140 passengers and crew on board, including up to eight children.

Air traffic control officials said the hijacker had demanded US$10 million and clearance to fly to Switzerland.

Officials released conflicting details of how the hijack finished and it was not immediately clear whether all the hostages were freed simultaneously.

An airport spokeswoman said initially the hijacker had surrendered but later reports made clear he had been seized by commandos. Mr Zaitsev said the elite Alpha commando force had detained the hijacker when he emerged from the aircraft to negotiate with officials.

He said he had been "wired up" but it was not immediately clear whether he had been carrying any real explosives. Russian news agencies quoted security officials as saying he had been carrying fake explosives.

Interfax news agency said the hijacker was a 60-year-old man but the report could not immediately be confirmed.

President Boris Yeltsin discussed possible counter-measures with the Interior Minister, Mr Anatoly Kulikov and Mr Nikolai Kovalyov, head of the Federal Security Service, Itar-Tass news agency said.

Meanwhile, Russia's emergencies minister said yesterday that Saturday's Siberian air crash, in which scores of people died, was the result of engine failure.

"The primary reason for the tragedy was that the engines failed but our experts are still investigating why," Mr Sergei Shoigu said on television from Irkutsk, where the huge military cargo plane plunged into an apartment block.

He said the computer on board the Antonov An-124 began switching off the engines seconds after it took off but added it was not clear why the command had been given.