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Hijacker an 'idiot,' not a terrorist, as passengers freed from jet in Cyprus


BREAKING: A man who claimed to be wearing a suicide belt when he hijacked an EgyptAir passenger jet and forced it to land in Cyprus Tuesday morning is “not a terrorist,” but a lovestruck “idiot,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said as many of the remaining passengers and crew were seen getting off the plane.

Local television footage showed seven people disembark, a sign that the hijacker may have freed everyone on board. One person climbed through a cockpit window.

The hijacker forced the EgyptAir Airbus A320, bound from Alexandria to Cairo, to land at Larnaca airport on Tuesday morning and demanded a meeting with his ex-wife, according to reports. He initially released most of the passengers, but kept three as well as four members of the cabin crew, according to Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister. It was not known if the suicide belt was real.

The man "seems (to be) in love," a Cyprus government official told The Associated Press. Separately, a civil aviation official said the man gave negotiators the name of a woman who lives in Cyprus and asked to give her an envelope.

“He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement to a Cairo-based journalist quoted by Reuters. “Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.”

The director of the Alexandria airport, Hossni Hassan, said there were 26 foreigners on board, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. He said three other foreigners could not be identified.

There was some confusion about the hijacker's identity. At a news conference in Cairo, Egypt's Civil Aviation minister, Sharif Fathi, refused to identify him.

Earlier, Egyptian government spokesman Hossam al-Queish said the hijacker was Ibrahim Samaha, but an Egyptian woman who identified herself as Samaha's wife said her husband is not the hijacker and was on his way to Cairo so he could fly to the U.S. to attend a conference.

There were also conflicting reports on the number of passengers and crew on the plane. An initial statement from Egypt's aviation authority said there were 81 passengers and five crew members on board. A revised statement reported by state media in Cyprus said that there were 55 passengers and seven crew members on board. A Cypriot official told The Associated Press that 56 passengers had left the aircraft after the hijacker released them.

Sky News reported that the short-haul Flight 181 took off from Alexandria at 8 a.m. Cyprus time. The hijacker contacted the control tower in Lanarka 30 minutes later and was given permission to land.

The plane landed at the airport in Larnaka, on the southern coast of the Mediterranean island, at approximately 8:45 a.m. local time.

Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, said the flight showed no signs of distress on its route to Cyprus.

"It looks like a completely controlled flight aside from the fact it was hijacked," Petchenik said.

Reuters, citing an Israeli military source, reported that Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the hijacking.

The hijacking again calls attention to 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 Islamic State terror group claimed it downed the plane.

( Source )


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