EgyptAir Jet Hijacked by Seif Eldin Mustafa, Diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus
A hijacker claiming to have an explosive belt diverted a commercial jet and was holding seven 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 passengers aboard ordered the plane to land in either Turkey or Cyprus, according to the airline.
The Airbus A320 was taken to the port city of Larnaca and landed at around 7:50 a.m., where negotiations got underway, EgyptAir said.
There were conflicting reports about how many people were on board — with some officials saying it was carrying 55 and others suggesting that figure was 81.
The majority of the passengers were soon released, leaving all but four foreigners and seven crew members on board.
Later, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said only three passengers and four crew remained on the hijacked plane about three hours into the drama.
The nationalities of the captives were not immediately clear.
The passenger list included eight Americans, two Belgians, four Dutch, and one national each from France, Italy and Syria, according to the ministry.
Footage from the scene showed the released passengers slowly disembarking from the plane, bags in hand.
A high-level source close to the operation said the hijacker’s motive seemed to be about a “personal” matter involving a woman.
The hijacker requested to be allowed to speak to someone — a Cypriot woman who appeared to be his ex-wife — and negotiators were discussing that prospect with him, the source added.
Egypt’s Minister of Civil Aviation said it was not yet clear if the hijacker had explosives as claimed.
“This will come as an outcome of the investigation,” Minister Sherif Fathy Ateyya told a news conference. “The reality is that we have a hijacker on board of a plane. We are not sure whether what he has are true… But we are dealing with it as a real threat because we cannot take any risks.”
He declined to confirm an earlier report from Egyptian government spokesman Hossam al-Queish that identified the hijacker as Ibrahim Samaha.
The Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, named the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa and said the situation was “ongoing” more than three hours after the plane landed on the tarmac.
The hijacker earlier had 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.
Ateyya also defended Egypt’s aviation security, which has faced scrutiny since a Russian passenger jet crashed after taking off from the country’s Sharm el-Sheikh airport in October.
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.