Skip to main content

EgyptAir hijacker arrested by Cypriot authorities, all hostages safe

Foreign ministry says 'psychologically unstable' Seif Eldin Mustafa gave himself up after six hour stand-off at Larnaca airport
An EgyptAir Airbus A-320 sits on the runway of Larnaca aiport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus on March 29, 2016 (AFP)

A "psychologically unstable" Egyptian man hijacked an EgyptAir passender jet on Tuesday, forcing its diversion to Cyprus and demanding to see his Cypriot ex-wife before he gave himself up after an six hour stand-off.

The situation at Larnaca airport came to a peaceful end at about 11.45am GMT, Cyprus' foreign ministry posted on Twitter.

The man, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, took control of Airbus A-320 shortly after it left Egypt's Alexandria. He claimed to have an explosive vest.

On landing in Cyprus, Mustafa let most of the passengers and crew leave, before reportedly calling on authorities to let him deliver a message to his Cypriot ex-wife.

After Mustafa's arrest, the permanent secretary of Cyprus foreign ministry, Alexandros Zenon, said the hijack was "not about terrorism. This is about the individual action of a person who is psychologically unstable".

Cyprus police later said they had found no explosives on the hijacker or the plane.

Footage aired by the BBC reportedly showed the hijacker surrendering to authorities at Larnaka.

Mustafa hijacked the plane with 81 passengers on board and seven crew. He threatened to blow up the jet with a suicide belt in order to have it redirected to Cyprus - it has still not been confirmed if Mustafa had explosives on the plane. 

Earlier Egyptian media published a photo of Mustafa on the plane, but they incorrectly identified him as university professor Ibraham Samaha.

Samaha later appeared on BBC Arabic to say he was not the hijacker but was in fact a passenger on the plane.

At 11.30am GMT four people, who appeared to be wearing airline uniforms, were shown on BBC News leaving the plane, which led to the end of the hijack swiftly afterwards.

Cypriot state media reported that the hijacker had demanded asylum in Cyprus via a translator and had asked to deliver a letter to his ex-wife who lives on the island, although this remains unconfirmed.

Shortly after these reports emerged, state media reported that the woman had arrived at the airport to negotiate with her ex-husband.

Egyptian media shared a photo in mid-morning that purported to show the moment the hijacker tried to handover a letter to be given to his former partner.

The Reuters news agency also reported that the hijacker was asking for the release of an unspecified number of unidentified female prisoners in Egypt.

A spokesperon for Egypt's foreign ministry dismissed any links to terrorism in the incident, calling the hijacker "an idiot".

“He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,” they said, according to the Guardian, although the foreign ministry later denied making the comments.

Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades said terrorism was not part of the hijacking and added: "It's all to do with a woman. We are doing everything to release the hostages."

A crisis team was deployed to the airport shortly after the jet landed.

Television news channel Euronews broadcast images of passengers leaving the plane at around 07.30am GMT.

The Egyptian civil aviation ministry confirmed the hijacking of Egypt Air flight MS181 early on Tuesday and said the hijacker had threatened to blow up the jet.

"The Airbus A-320 carrying 81 passengers and flying between Alexandria and Cairo was hijacked," a ministry statement said, adding that the flight had originated in Saudi Arabia. "The pilot said that a passenger told him he had an explosives vest and forced the plane to land in Larnaca."

Laranaca airport was closed and all flights were diverted to Paphos.

Cyprus government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said on Twitter that President Anastasiades had spoken by telephone with Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Larnaca is no stranger to hostage crises. Several hijacked planes were diverted to the airport in the 1970s and 1980s. And the incident will raise further questions about security at Egyptian airports months after the downing of a Russian jet from the Sinai that was bombed by militants linked to the Islamic State group.

Passengers of an EgyptAir Airbus A-320 which was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus stand at Larnaca airport after disembarking the plane on March 29, 2016. (AFP)

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.