+++ (FT) EgyptAir hijacking: plane lands in Cyprus

(FT) Cypriot president says incident is not related to terrorism.

A policeman stands guard at Larnaca airport near a hijacked EgyptAir A320
A policeman stands guard at Larnaca airport near a hijacked EgyptAir A320 © Reuters

An EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to fly to Cyprus where it landed at the island’s main commercial airport, at Larnaca.

The Egyptian aviation ministry said Omar al Gamal, the pilot of the diverted flight, said there was a threat from an individual on board who claimed he was wearing an explosive belt.

“It is not something which has to do with terrorism,” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters from Nicosia.

The hijacker allowed most passengers and crew to leave the aircraft. Sherif Fathy, the Egyptian aviation minister, told a press conference that seven people remained on board the plane with the hijacker – the pilot, co-pilot, an Egyptian security man, a stewardess and three passengers.

Mr Fathy refused to name the hijacker and said it was not confirmed that he had an explosive belt. He said the hijacker had not made any concrete demands so far.

The Egyptian government has apologised to Ibrahim Samaha, a university professor who was on the flight, who was mistakenly identified as the hijacker. Mr Samaha’s wife contacted a television station to say that he had been in touch from Cyprus and was among those released from the plane.

According to Egypt’s foreign ministry, there were 55 passengers on board the Airbus A320.

News reports citing Cypriot officials suggested there may have been a personal motive relating to an ex-wife behind the hijacker’s actions, but this has not been confirmed by Egypt.

Tuesday’s incident is a major setback for Egypt which has been trying to convince the world that its airports are safe after a bomb brought down a Russian airliner last year after it took off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport in the Sinai, killing more than 200 people.

The attack on the Russian aircraft, claimed by Isis, has devastated the country’s already faltering tourism industry. Russia, a major source of tourists, halted all flights to and from Egypt. Various western carriers have also stopped flying to Sharm el-Sheikh, a major tourist destination.

President Anastasiades discussed the hijacking with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by telephone in the presence of European Parliament president Martin Shultz, who is paying an official visit to the island.EgyptAir-hijacking_-plane-lands-in-Cyprus-—-FT