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EgyptAir Hijacking Standoff Ends With Arrest In Cyprus

A passenger leaves a hijacked EgyptAir plane after it landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus.
Petros Karadjias
A passenger leaves a hijacked EgyptAir plane after it landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus.

Cypriot authorities say they have arrested the hijacker of an EgyptAir plane after an hours-long standoff in Larnaca, Cyprus. All the passengers and crew had been released.

The man's motivations are still murky. Cypriot officials describe the suspected hijacker as "unstable" and tell NPR that he wanted to speak to his Cyprus-based ex-wife. He later requested political asylum, they say. Cyprus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified the man as Seif Eldin Mustafa. Earlier news reports had identified a different man.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Mustafa is an Egyptian national and a former army officer who lived in Cyprus until the mid-1990s.

Authorities say the suspect hijacked the Cairo-bound EgyptAir plane departing from the coastal city of Alexandria early Tuesday and forced it to land in Cyprus.

Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy told reporters at a news conference that the hijacker had claimed to have an explosive belt, though Cyprus' Ministry of Foreign Affairs later said that the alleged explosives were fake.

The flight took off from Alexandria with more than 50 people on board, including, as The Associated Press reports, "26 foreigners, and a seven-member crew." The flight tracking website Flightradar24 shows the path of the flight, and said flights trying to arrive at Larnaca Airport were being diverted.

Most of the passengers were quickly released upon landing. Fathy told reporters that seven people were held on board the plane: the pilot, his deputy, a flight attendant and a security guard, as well as three non-Egyptian passengers.

One of the hostages was seen climbing through the cockpit window and escaping just minutes before the hijacker surrendered. You can see the video of that escape here, broadcast on Sky News Arabia:

The aviation minister would not immediately elaborate on the hijacker's demands or the names of the people who were on board during the standoff. But the motive, while still vague, might have been personal.

Joanna Kakissis tells our Newscast unit that according to Cypriot authorities, "the 59-year-old man initially asked to speak to his ex-wife — who is from Cyprus." Here's more from Joanna:

"Cypriot police say the couple have four children. Mustafa's ex-wife came to the airport, but police prevented her from entering the plane. The police say he then asked for political asylum and to speak to European Union leaders.

"Cypriot government sources describe Mustafa as 'unstable.' Police are translating a letter he wrote in Arabic, in which he made demands."

Cypriot authorities did not immediately report the man's nationality, Joanna says.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters that the hijacking is "not something to do with terrorism." When a reporter asked if it had something to do with a woman, he replied, "Always, there is a woman."

But according to Reuters, the Cyprus state broadcaster reported later that the hijacker "asked for the release of female prisoners in Egypt."

This comes as Egypt faces growing international scrutiny about the state of its airport security. A Russian airplane departing from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh airport crashed in the Sinai in October, killing all 224 people on board. Russia said the plane was downed by a bomb, and Egypt's local Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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