‘It’s Over!’ EgyptAir hijacker arrested after hours-long hostage situation

A Cypriot police officer stands guard near the hijacked plane on Tuesday. KATIA CHRISTODOULOU / EPA

A hijacker who diverted a commercial jet and took dozens of hostages over what appeared to be a “personal” matter involving a woman was arrested Tuesday, authorities said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Cyprus confirmed in a tweet at around 7:45 a.m. ET that the hours-long ordeal was over.

The drama unfolded aboard EgyptAir Flight MS181, which was on a domestic flight en route from Alexandria to Cairo. A hijacker who claimed to have an explosive belt ordered the plane to land in either Turkey or Cyprus, according to officials.

The Airbus A320 flew to the Cypriot port city of Larnaca and landed at around 7:50 a.m. local time (12:50 a.m. ET), where negotiations got underway, EgyptAir said.

The majority of the passengers were soon released, leaving all but four foreigners and seven crew members on board.

The hijacker spent the first three hours of the standoff demanding to speak to his Cypriot ex-wife, a high-level source close to the operation told NBC News.

“Our people they were talking to him all the time in order to keep keep him busy and allow people to come out,” the source added, saying that for each request negotiators asked that more hostages be released in return.

The hijacker —identified by the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Seif Eldin Mustafa — then shifted his demands.

“He asked for asylum, he wanted to talk with someone from the European Union… It seems that he was an unstable personality,” the source explained, requesting anonymity due to the fluid nature of the investigation.

The source said that once the passengers and crew had been freed the hijacker was alone in the plane “so he didn’t have any other option than to come out.”

Authorities now are examining whether the hijacker did in fact have any explosives.

A person uses a cockpit window to leave the hijacked EgyptAir jet. Petros Karadjias / AP
A person uses a cockpit window to leave the hijacked EgyptAir jet. Petros Karadjias / AP

Live footage from the scene shortly before the arrest was announced showed someone dangling from a rope out of the cockpit window and dropping to the ground. Two people were also seen coming down stairs parked next to the jet.

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 passenger list included eight Americans, according to Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry.

Earlier, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking was “not something that has to do with terrorism.”

The same high-level source close to the operation had suggested early on that the hijacker’s motive seemed to be about a “personal” matter involving a woman. The hijacker is believed to be an Egyptian national.

Egypt’s Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fathy Ateyya defended his country’s airport security as the standoff unfolded. It 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.

 

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