EgyptAir hijack: Man surrenders at Larnaca airport

  • Published
Media caption,

The suspect emerged from the plane and was later detained

A hijacking that diverted a domestic Egyptian flight to Cyprus has ended with all hostages released and the hijacker surrendering.

EgyptAir Flight MS181 was taken over by a passenger claiming to be wearing a suicide explosive belt.

Airline officials later said they had been told by Cypriot authorities that the belt was fake.

The hijacker's motives remain unclear but the Cypriot president said the incident was not terrorism-related.

No-one was injured in the hijacking, Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodulides tweeted.

Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
A man believed to be the hijacker leaves the aircraft
Image source, AFP/Getty
Image caption,
Cypriot security services were waiting for him

After a morning of tension, the hijacker was seen walking down aircraft steps at Larnaca airport with his hands raised.

Some reports said the Egyptian man - named by Cypriot officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa - wanted to talk to his estranged Cypriot wife who lives on the Mediterranean island, while others said he was seeking the release of female prisoners in Egypt.

Analysis - BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner

Image source, Reuters

It is only some small comfort that the man who hijacked Egyptair flight MS181 was bluffing. The bulging white "suicide belt" with wires sticking out turned out to be a fake.

It at least means that this time Egypt cannot be accused of letting someone smuggle explosives through airport security and on to an airliner as they did in October at Sharm El Sheikh airport, destroying a Russian passenger jet in mid-air.

But it still triggers a number of worrying questions about aviation security.

How was it that a passenger, described by the Cypriot authorities as "mentally unstable" was able to carry enough materials through Alexandria airport to resemble a bomb?

And what is to stop any future airline passenger, similarly unarmed, from pretending that he or she has a real device strapped to them?

For Egypt's battered tourism industry, that has yet to recover from the October airline bombing, this hijack is a further blow it can ill afford.

The hijacker's surrender came shortly after several people were seen fleeing the aircraft. One - apparently a crew member - escaped by climbing out of the aircraft's cockpit window.

Throughout the morning, people had been seen leaving the aircraft after appearing to have been released.

Media caption,

A man was seen fleeing from a cockpit window shortly before the hijacker surrendered

Local media reports said the hijacker had handed over a four-page letter in Arabic after the plane landed at Larnaca on Tuesday morning, and that later a woman thought to be his wife had arrived at the airport.

Earlier, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had responded to a reporter's question about whether the hijacker was motivated by romance, by laughing and saying: "Always there is a woman involved."

Egypt airport security

Image source, AFP/Getty

Video posted by Egypt's Interior Ministry on its Facebook page shows the suspected hijacker passing through airport security in Alexandria.

Egypt says it has taken steps to improve safety after Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown up over Sinai last October:

  • British consultancy Control Risks to review security at Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh and Marsa Alam airports
  • $1bn a year to upgrade airport security
  • Increased and more thorough checks

Despite this, the BBC's Youssef Taha says checks remain patchy and inconsistent:

  • Many VIPs refuse to be searched and MPs claim immunity
  • Airport and airline staff do not usually go through full screening

EgyptAir said the Airbus A320 was carrying 56 passengers from Alexandria to Cairo, along with six crew and a security official. It had initially said 81 passengers were on board.

Media caption,

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades: "Always there is a woman involved"

A statement from Egypt's civil aviation ministry said 26 foreign passengers were on board, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch citizens, two Belgians, two Greeks, a French national, an Italian and a Syrian.

Larnaca airport, on the south coast of Cyprus, has been closed and scheduled flights diverted elsewhere.