EgyptAir plane hijacked, diverted to Cyprus
CAIRO — An Egyptian passenger plane carrying dozens of passengers and several crewmembers was hijacked by a passenger wearing an explosive belt and forced to land in Cyprus Tuesday, according to the country’s civil aviation authority.
Egypt Air flight MS 181 was flying from the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria to the capital, Cairo, and was scheduled to land at 7.15 am. Instead, the plane was diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus, and there were suspicions of a bomb aboard, a Cypriot government official said.
Egypt Air tweeted that its flight was “officially hijacked.” Later, it tweeted that “negotiations … resulted in the release of all the passengers, except the crew and four foreigners.” It was not immediately clear how many crewmembers were on board the flight.
Passengers were seen disembarking in waves from the Airbus at Larnaca airport carrying luggage. Some appeared to be wearing crew uniforms.
An Egyptian civil aviation authority spokesman told the Washington Post there were 56 people on board, including 30 Egyptians , 11 Italians , 8 Americans , two Belgians, two Greeks , a French citizen and a Syrian. He declined to comment further.
Egypt Air initially said there were 88 passengers on the plane.
Spokespeople from the U.S. embassy and the British Foreign Ministry in Cairo said they were working to establish whether any of their nationals were on board the hijacked flight.
The hijacker was a Egyptian national named Ibrahim Samaha. There were unconfirmed reports that the hijacker teaches veterinary medicine at Alexandria university.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the hijacking was not terrorism-related.
Cyprus’ president said the hijacking incident was “not something which has to do with terrorism,” the Associated Press reported from Cyprus.
Nicos Anastasiades said the government of Cyprus was doing its utmost so that all passengers on the Egypt Air flight are safe. He spoke on the sidelines of a meeting Tuesday with the president of the European Parliament, the AP reported.
Local Cypriot media was reporting the hijacker wanted to see his ex-wife, who lives in Larnaca. The woman was on her way to Larnaca airport, the reports said.
Reports said the hijacker threatened the pilot with an explosive during the flight.
If the hijacker was able to get on the flight with an explosives belt or other kind of arms, it would be a major embarrassment to the Egyptian government and highlight the lingering concerns among aviation authorities and analysts of the country’s poor security at airports.
The hijacking arrives as militant attacks in Egypt have surged in recent years, driving tourists and foreign investors away as the government struggles to revive the economy.
Egypt’s American-backed military is battling an Islamic State affiliate in the country’s northern Sinai Peninsula. In October, a Russian passenger plane was brought down over the Sinai by a bomb planted aboard, an attack that was claimed by the Islamic State.