A man who hijacked an EgyptAir domestic flight to Larnaca, Cyprus on Tuesday morning has been arrested, a tweet put out by the airline’s official Twitter handle at 1725 IST announced, bringing to an end a seven-hour drama that officials say may not have been an act of political terrorism but the product of a domestic dispute.
Flight MS181 from Alexandria to Cairo International Airport was hijacked soon after it took off and forced to land at Larnaca airport by a man reportedly strapped with explosives on Tuesday morning. The Independent reported that the hijacker wanted to travel to Istanbul but decided on Cyprus due to a shortage of fuel.
What we know
- Most Passengers Released: EgyptAir’s twitter account confirmed that negotiations with the hijacker resulted in the release of all passengers apart from the aircraft crew and several foreign national passengers. Egypt’s civil aviation minister announced that four crew members and three passengers remain on the plane. The nationalities of the passengers are known but are not yet being released for security reasons. Negotiations remain ongoing.
- Hijacker Identity: The Cypriot ministry of foreign affairs has identified the hijacker as Seif El Din Mustafa. This was earlier reported by CNN in a tweet that described Mustafa as an Egyptian national. However, some confusion remains. It was previously believed that the hijacker was 27-year-old Ibrahim Samaha, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria University who has since denied the claim.
- Not Terrorism: The hijacking is not a terrorism related incident according to Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades. Originally thought to be seeking asylum in Cyprus, the hijacker is now thought to have personal motives, demanding to speak to his ex-wife. It was reported that the Egyptian foreign ministry denounced the hijacker as ‘not a terrorist but an idiot’ but this has since been denied in a statement by the ministry’s spokesperson.
What we don’t know
- Suicide Belt? Sherif Fathi, the Egyptian minister of aviation announced in a press conference that authorities were being cautious about the unconfirmed claim that the hijacker is wearing an explosive suicide vest. They are treating it ‘as if it is real’.
- Number of Passengers? The exact number of passengers aboard the airbus 320 is unclear but the Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported that 81 passengers were on board at the time of the hijacking.
- How? The circumstances of how the hijacking actually took place and the content of the negotiations are not known. This matter is of particular interest considering the recent security concerns surrounding Egyptian airports and the fact that this is the 8th hijacking involving EgyptAir. It is yet to be revealed how the aviation authorities handled the negotiations concerning a suicide bomb threat.
- Motive? The exact aims, demands and motives of the hijacker are yet to be understood. The motive is still being described as ‘personal’ in most accounts but unconfirmed reports from the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation via Reuters suggest a possible political demand: the release of female prisoners in Egypt.
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