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7-hour hijacking of EgyptAir flight 181: What went down?

Ahram Online revisits the tense and confusing few hours of the hijacking of an Egyptian plane by a man who made people believe he was wearing an explosive belt before everything ended peacefully

Ahram Online , Tuesday 29 Mar 2016
An EgyptAir Airbus A-320 sits on the tarmac of Larnaca airport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus on March 29, 2016 (AFP)
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Views: 3313

A hijacker who diverted on Tuesday morning EgyptAir flight 181 – on its route from Alexandria to Cairo – to Larnaca, Cyprus surrendered to Cypriot authorities after holding hostages for more than seven hours, though his exact motives remain unclear.

Egyptian officials said the hijacker, who was one of the passengers, initially demanded the plane land in Turkey. However, the officials added that the plane's fuel supply was insufficient to reach Istanbul and the pilot had to land in Larnaca airport.

The plane landed safely and no on aboard was injured.

Shortly after 181 landed in Cyprus, the hijacker allowed most of the hostages to disembark the plane except for three non-Egyptians and five crew members.

A total of 55 passengers, including Egyptians, Americans and British nationals, were aboard the flight.

The hijacker, later identified, as an Egyptian national by the name of Seif El-Din Mustafa, claimed he had an explosives belt.

The standoff ended when the hijacker allowed all remaining hostages to disembark the plane before surrendering to Cypriot officials around 2pm.

After it was all over, Egyptian civil aviation minister Sherif Fathy said the belt did not appear to be genuine, but Egyptian officials "did not want to take an even one percent risk it was a real explosives belt."

The interior ministry released a video on its Facebook page showing passengers, including Mustafa, undergoing security checks at Borg El-Arab Airport in Alexandria.

Fathy added that Mustafa made phone calls while he was aboard, which showed this was not a terrorist attack and that Mustafa had some personal and mental problems.

Cypriot officials negotiated with the hijacker and the airport was placed on lockdown.

The exact nature of the hijacker's demands remains unclear amid contradicting media reports.

Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CYBC) reported that the hijacker may have had personal motives, and that he had an ex-wife in Cyprus.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said in a press conference that the hijack was “not something that has to do with terrorism.”

Cyprus state TV said the hijacker was demanding asylum in the Mediterranean island-nation, and that he asked for a translator to relay his demands to the authorities.

However, nearly two hours before Mustafa surrendered, Cyprus' state broadcaster said he was demanding the release of prisoners in Egypt.

After the hijacker’s arrest, minister Fathy said he had doubts from the beginning that the hijacking of flight 181 was a terrorist incident.

The minister told state TV that the hijacker displayed "unprofessionalism" in his hijacking techniques, and that phone calls he made while on board showed he had some personal and mental problems.

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