Tuesday, March 29, 2016

EgyptAir Jet Hijacked, Diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus

A hijacker claiming to have an explosive belt diverted a passenger jet and was holding 11 people hostage Tuesday over what appeared to be a "personal" matter involving a woman, authorities said.

EgyptAir Flight MS181 was en route from the Egyptian city of Alexandria to Cairo when one of the people aboard ordered the plane to land in Cyprus, according to the airline.

The Airbus A320 carrying 81 passengers and five crew members landed in the port city of Larnaca and negotiations got underway, EgyptAir said.

Egypt's Aviation Ministry later said all but four foreigners and seven crew members had been released. The nationalities of the captives were not immediately clear.

Negotiations with the kidnapped result in the release of all the passengers, except the crew and four foreigners.

The passenger list included eight Americans, two Belgians, four Dutch, and one national each from France, Italy and Syria, according to the ministry.

A high-level source close to the operation said the hijacking's motive seemed to be about a "personal" matter involving a woman.

The hijacker requested he be allowed to speak to someone — a Cypriot woman who appeared to be his ex-wife — and negotiators are discussing that prospect with him, the source added.

Footage from the scene showed the released passengers slowly disembarking from the plane, bags in hand.

Earlier, the hijacker offered to release women and children if police moved away from the aircraft, the Mediterranean island nation's former EU commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said on Twitter.

The incident put the security of Egypt's airports back under scrutiny less than a year after a Russian passenger jet crashed after taking off from the country's Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

ISIS claimed responsibility for downing the Metrojet plane and the tragedy raised questions about how any potential explosives may have made it on board and whether there were security failings on Egypt's end.

EgyptAir's last hijacking was 30 years ago when an Athens to Cairo flight was seized by terrorists and diverted to Malta. When negotiations failed, Egyptian troops stormed the aircraft but the hijackers fought back with hand grenades. Sixty of the 90 passengers were killed.

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