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All 109 Passengers Are Safe After Libyan Jet Is Hijacked and Diverted to Malta


Passengers leaving the hijacked Afriqiyah Airways plane at Malta International Airport on Friday. Credit Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

CAIRO — All 109 passengers on board a hijacked Libyan airliner en route to the capital, Tripoli, were released on Friday, hours after two men claiming to be carrying explosives forced the plane to divert to Malta, the island’s prime minister said.

Some crew members and the hijackers were still aboard the Airbus A320, which was parked in a corner of Malta International Airport and surrounded by soldiers.

The two hijackers had threatened to detonate an explosive device, according to airline officials and Maltese news reports. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, who provided a steady stream of updates on Twitter about the situation, said that the island’s security services were “coordinating operations.”

The flight, operated by the state-owned Afriqiyah Airways of Libya, took off from the southern Libyan city of Sebha and was scheduled to fly to Tripoli, which is on the coast. It was diverted to Malta, about 200 miles across the Mediterranean Sea from the Libyan capital.

Mr. Muscat wrote on Twitter that there were 111 passengers on the plane, including 82 men, 28 women and one infant, a breakdown that included the two hijackers. Afriqiyah officials confirmed that figure, adding that seven crew members were also on board.

The Maltese prime minister reported that the hijackers first released a group of 25 women and children, followed by a second block of 25 people. He continued to post updates on Twitter until it was clear that all of the passengers had disembarked.

The identity and affiliation of the hijackers were unknown, but a senior Afriqiyah Airways official said that one of them had demanded a visa for Europe, suggesting that the hijacking had not been directed by a militant group.

“We feared he might be one of those ideological people, but that seems not to be the case,” said the official, Captain Abdelatif Ali Kablan, the chairman of the airline, speaking by telephone from Tripoli.

It was the second hijacking this year of a passenger jet in the Mediterranean region. In March, an Egyptian man commandeered an EgyptAir domestic flight en route to Cairo and forced it to land in Cyprus, where he demanded the release of political prisoners in Egypt and a meeting with his estranged wife.

The crisis ended hours later with the surrender of the hijacker, Seif Eldin Mustafa, who turned out to be wearing a fake explosives vest fashioned from mobile phone cases that had been taped together.

In September, a court in Cyprus ordered the deportation of Mr. Mustafa, 59, to Egypt. His lawyers are resisting the order and seeking asylum for Mr. Mustafa, claiming he could be tortured if sent home.

Source: NYT > World

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