EgyptAir flight MS181: Hijacker arrested and hostage situation ends after Cairo-bound plane is forced to land in Cyprus
A seven-hour hijack situation which forced an EgyptAir Airbus A320 to land in Cyprus while flying from Alexandria to Cairo has ended.
The EgyptAir plane with 55 passengers onboard diverted to Larnaca airport on the Mediterranean island mid-way through a domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo on Tuesday which departed at 8am (5am UK time).
A hijacker contacted the control tower at 8.30am and the plane was given permission to land at 8.50am.
The hijacker gradually allowed the majority of passengers to leave the aircraft, however, negotiations were ongoing as seven people including three passengers were held on the plane.
During the ordeal, aviation minister Sherif Fathi did not reveal the nationalities of those being held on the plane.
Claims were also made that the hijacker was wearing an explosive belt which airline officials later said was fake.
CCTV images have shown the man who carried out the hijacking passing through airport security.
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.
Sky News reported that there was one Irish person on the flight.
As the situation came to a dramatic end, images showed a man in uniform climbing out of the cockpit and a further three people exiting via the stairs of the aircraft before the hijacker was arrested.
The situation ended at around 12.45pm UK time.
Alexandros Zenon, the permanent secretary of the foreign ministry in Cyprus, confirmed the hijacker's surrender and subsequent arrest, saying the situation was "over". The arrest was also reported by Egypt's prime minister, Sharif Ismail, and civil aviation minister Sharif Fathi.
"All passengers and crew are safe," Mr Fathi said on state television.
Mr Fathi said the hijacker had not made "concrete demands". He was described as "unstable" by a Cyprus foreign ministry official.
Initially it was alleged that "personal motives" were behind the hijacker's action in that he wanted to see his ex-wife who is Cypriot.
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. It is unclear what relationship she and the man have had.
The BBC reported that the man's estranged wife lived close to the airport and travelled to the scene of the incident.
However, the Cyprus state broadcaster claimed the hijacker was also asking for prisoners in Egypt to be released.
According to reports the hijacker also demanded a translator and political asylum in Cyprus.
Suicide belts have been a weapon of choice for Islamic militants in the Middle East.
The Aviation minister later said they did not know whether the explosives belt the hijacker claimed to be wearing was real or not.
Egypt sent a plane to Cyprus to pick up the stranded passengers.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the incident was not terror related, describing it as "unprecedented".
The Guardian quoted a foreign ministry official in Cairo as saying: "He's not a terrorist, he's an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren't stupid. This guy is."
However, Egypt's foreign ministry denied making the comment to the Guardian.
The hijacking will again raise questions over security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft crashed over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula minutes after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
All 224 people on board were killed in that crash. Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft, and the extremist Islamic State group (IS) said it was responsible.
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