Relief in Cyprus as EgyptAir hijacker surrenders

Nicos Anastasiades praises police for their efforts in ensuring safety of all on board

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus 320 leaves the plane  before surrendering to security forces after a seven-hour standoff at Larnaca airport, Cyprus. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus 320 leaves the plane before surrendering to security forces after a seven-hour standoff at Larnaca airport, Cyprus. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

 

A hijacker claiming he was wearing a suicide belt on Tuesday diverted an EgyptAir passenger jet to Larnaca International Airport in Cyprus where, after seven hours on the ground, he surrendered and was found to have no explosives.

Hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa threatened the crew of the plane, which had 49 passengers and seven crew on board, shortly after taking off from Alexandria for Cairo. All on board were freed unharmed after lengthy negotiations between Mustafa and a team of Cypriot officials and staff from the Egyptian embassy.

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades congratulated the country’s police and foreign ministry for “their efforts to end the hijacking and ensure the safety of all passengers and crew”.

Soon after the Airbus 320 had landed, Mustafa released everybody on board except for three of the passengers and crew, and requested that his divorced wife, Marina (51), come to the airport. The couple have four adult children.

Mustafa dwelled in Cyprus until 1994. His former wife, who lives near Larnaca, was duly taken to the scene. From the outset, the Cypriot authorities said the hijacker was not a terrorist. “What we have clarified . . . is that it’s not about terrorism. [He] appears to be a person who is in an unstable psychological state and the issue is being handled accordingly,” said foreign ministry official Alexandros Zenon.

Nevertheless, the authorities took the situation seriously. Flights due to land were diverted and those set to depart were delayed. Police ordered the media back from the airfield and cleared restaurants on the coast near the runway.

Negotiations

During the standoff there was considerable confusion over the situation. At one point the culprit was named as Ibrahim Samaha, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria university, who was subsequently found among the evacuated passengers.

It was also variously reported that Mustafa had demanded to be flown to Turkey, had sought asylum in Cyprus, had called for the release of female prisoners in Egyptian jails and had asked for an EU official to come to the aircraft.

Security at Egypt’s airports has been tightened since last October when a bomb placed at Sharm al-Sheikh on a Russian Metrojet airliner killed 224 holidaymakers.

Cyprus is particularly sensitive about hijackings. This was the third time an aircraft has been diverted to Larnaca. In June 1978, the potential slaughter of hostages was averted when the Cypriot National Guard fired on Egyptian troops who had landed on a military transport plane, preventing them from assaulting a Cyprus Airways plane seized by two men who had killed Egyptian newspaper editor Youssef El-Sabai while he was attending a conference in Nicosia. Fifteen Egyptian soldiers were killed.

In 1988, a Kuwait Airlines flight en route from Bangkok to Kuwait was taken over by gunmen and diverted to Mashad in Iran and later to Larnaca. The hijackers demanded the release by Kuwait of 17 pro-Iranian terrorists. Two Kuwaiti security men were killed in the incident.