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Egyptian Plane Hijacking Cyprus Ordeal Ends With Arrest, Confusion

 

NICOSIA — A Cyprus Foreign Ministry official says the hijacker of the EgyptAir plane that was diverted to Cyprus has been arrested and that the situation is “over.”

Alexandros Zenon, the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, did not immediately have more details on the arrest, which ended an hours-long drama at the Larnaca airport.

Earlier, seven more people — presumably the last of the crew and passengers who had remained with the hijackers onboard — were seen leaving the plane. One man climbed out the cockpit window.

Local TV footage from the scene in Larnaca airport showed that seven more people left the hijacked plane, with one man climbing out of the cockpit window and the sliding off the plane.

The others left by climbing down the stairs in two groups, within the space of about half an hour on March 29. Egyptian officials have identified the hijacker as Seifedeen Mustafa. An earlier name given for him was wrong.

The man’s motivation was unclear, but President Nicos Anastasiades earlier  said the hijacking was “not something that has to do with terrorism” and a Cyprus government official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man “seems (to be) in love.”

A civil aviation official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t allowed to disclose details of ongoing negotiations, said the man gave negotiators the name of a woman who lives in Cyprus and asked to give her an envelope. It’s unclear what relationship she and the man have.

Flight MS181 took off from the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria en route to Cairo with at least 55 passengers, including 26 foreigners, and a seven-member crew.

An official with flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 said the plane showed no immediate signs of distress. The flight between Alexandria and Cairo normally takes about 30 minutes.

Egyptian government spokesman Hossam al-Queish had wrongly identified the man who hijacked the plane as Ibrahim Samah. Al-Queish also told the private CBC TV network that authorities could not confirm that Samah had explosives on him. An earlier statement from the Egyptian Aviation Ministry statement said the man claimed he had a belt with explosives.

The plane landed at the airport in the southern Cypriot city of Larnaca, also on the Mediterranean. A statement from the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry statement said the foreigners on board included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. Three other foreigners could not be identified.

The incident raised more questions about security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula minutes after it took off from Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

All 224 people on board were killed in the crash. Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft and the extremist Islamic State group took responsibility.

Police evacuated a stretch of beach near the Larnaca airport tarmac where the hijacked EgyptAir passenger jet is parked.

The standoff at the airport was continuing with the hijacker and seven passengers and crew remaining on the EgyptAir plane.

Cypriot police told dozens of journalists and patrons of a number of trendy coffee shops and restaurants to vacate Makenzy Beach, which is popular with tourists.

The beach is just meters away from the outer fence of Cyprus’ main airport at Larnaca where the aircraft landed after a hijacker diverted it to the east Mediterranean island.

Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi earlier would not disclose any names but there was been confusion over the identity of the hijacker. He spoke to the media in Cairo shortly after the hijacking.

An Egyptian woman has said she is the wife of Ibrahim Samaha — the name given earlier by Egyptian officials as the hijacker. She said her husband, with the same name, is not the hijacker and that he was on his way to Cairo en route to the United States to attend a conference.

The woman, who identified herself as Nahla, told the private TV network ONTV in a telephone interview that her husband had never been to Cyprus and that a photo shown on Egyptian and regional TV channels and purporting to show the hijacker is not her husband.

The confusion over the identity of the hijacker could not immediately be resolved.

Officials at the Egyptian airport from which the hijacked EgyptAir aircraft took off and was taken to Cyprus say the hijacker was a native of the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria and a dual Egyptian-American citizen.

Egyptian officials mistakenly identified the hijacker as Ibrahim Samaha, a veterinarian.

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