LARNACA, Cyprus, March 29, (AP): An Egyptian man wearing a fake explosives belt who hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight and forced it to land in Cyprus on Tuesday has surrendered and was taken into custody after he released all passengers and crew unharmed. The hijacker was described by officials as unstable. His surrender ended an hours-long standoff at Larnaca airport on the island nation’s southern coast.
The hijacker had earlier freed most of the passengers but kept on board seven people — four crew members and three passengers. The man’s motivations were unclear, but officials said the hijacking was not terrorismrelated, and that the hijacker had tried to communicate with his Cypriot ex-wife, who lives on the island. Just minutes before the arrest, local TV footage from the airport showed several people disembarking from the aircraft and a man who appeared to be a crew member climbing out of the cockpit window and sliding down the side of the plane.
Alexandros Zenon, the permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry in Cyprus, confirmed the hijacker’s surrender and subsequent arrest, saying the situation was “over.” Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sharif Fathi told state television that “all passengers and crew are safe.” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking was “not something that has to do with terrorism,” and a Cyprus government official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man “seems (to be) in love.” Anastasiades, appearing alongside European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Nicosia, was asked by reporters whether he could confirm that the incident was about a woman.
“Always, there is a woman,” he replied, drawing laughter. The hijacker had asked to speak to his Cypriot ex-wife, a Cypriot police official said. The hijacker also complained about the Egyptian government and demanded the release of female prisoners from Egyptian jails. Another Cypriot police official confirmed that the hijacker and his Cypriot wife were divorced in 1994 and had four children. The official said “the woman has nothing to do with this situation.”
A Cypriot 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 was not clear if she was his former wife. The police official said the hijacker walked off the plane and was taken into custody by anti-terrorism police. He said the man wore a belt but there were no explosives in it. Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said man was wearing a fake explosives belt.