Grinning passenger poses for a SELFIE alongside hijacker wearing a ‘suicide vest’: Jet is forced to land in Cyprus where pilot jumps out of cockpit window to escape before hostage taker is arrested
- EgyptAir jet hijacked by man in bomb vest from Alexandria to Cairo
- Hijacker Seif El Din Mustafa demanded to see Cypriot ex-wife
- Held handful of passengers and crew hostage on tarmac in Cyprus
- Arrested after a five-hour negotiations which saw him leave letter for ex
This is the moment when one of the passengers believed to be held hostage on the EgyptAir plane forced to land in Cyprus, takes a grinning selfie with the hijacker.
The hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, is seen wearing his ‘suicide belt’, as an unknown man standing next to him on the plane while taking a picture.
Mustafa hijacked the domestic EgyptAir jet after taking off from Alexandria and forcing it to re-route to Cyprus’ Larnaca airport, where he has taken several passengers and crew hostage and demanded to see his Cypriot ex-wife.
The hostage situation on the tarmac came to a dramatic end just before 1pm as one of the pilots was seen struggling with someone inside cockpit before jumping out of a window, moments before authorities arrested Mustafa.
Mustafa disembarked the plane at around 14.40 local time with his hands up and threw some items on the ground, which were picked up by police and are being examined.
EgyptAir confirmed that all the hostages have been released, saying: ” Official sources at EgyptAir declared the release of all the hostages and the arrest of the hijacker.”
Alexandros Zenon, the permanent Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, did not immediately have more details on the arrest, which ended a five-hours-long drama at the Larnaca airport.
Earlier, seven more people – presumed to be the last of the crew and ‘foreign’ passengers who had remained with the hijacker onboard – were seen leaving the plane.
His arrest followed a comment by an Egyptian Foreign Ministry official, who said: ‘He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.’
A picture from the tarmac shows the moment the attacker hands over a four-page letter intended for his ex-wife, as a female airport official stands with her head in her hands.
While initially not making any demands beyond his ex-wife and asylum, the hijacker reportedly asked for the release of female prisoners in Egypt, the Cyprus state broadcaster reported.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters the incident appeared to be motivated by personal reasons and ‘is not terrorism-related’
Asked about reports that the hijacker had demanded to see a Cypriot woman, Anastasiades laughed and said: ‘Always there is a woman.’
Police spokeswoman Nicoletta Tirimou said the letter handed to officials is written in Arabic, and is being translated, adding that the man’s ex-lover had arrived at the airport and that the couple had children.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister Sharif Fathi, said at a press conference that there has been confusion over the identity of the hijacker, after government officials gave the man’s name as Ibrahim Samaha.
However, this was later retracted, with the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs naming him as Seif Eldin Mustafa – and the Egyptian government issuing an apology.
Negotiations with the hijacker during the morningt resulted in the release of a majority of the hostages, except for the crew and four foreigners, EgyptAir said.
The hijacking of the plane, carrying 55 passengers and a crew of seven, was confirmed by EgyptAir on Twitter at 7.40am GMT.
Flight MS181 took off from the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria en route to Cairo with at least 55 passengers, including 26 foreigners, and a seven-member crew.
An official with flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 said the plane showed no immediate signs of distress. The flight between Alexandria and Cairo normally takes about 30 minutes.
The plane diverted to Cyprus after the captain, Omar Jamal, was alerted to the presence of a passenger who was wearing what appeared to be an explosive belt.
A statement from the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry statement said the foreigners on board included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. Three other foreigners could not be identified.
The plane landed at Larnaca airport at around 8.50am (6.50am GMT), police in Cyprus said.
Cypriot government officials said that after the plane landed, the hijackers demanded that police vehicles move away from the aircraft.
Initial claims that hijacker had requested to go to Turkey has since been denied by airport officials who say no other destinations had been mentioned.
Ibrahim Abdel Tawab Samaha was identified as the hijacker by Egyptian government spokesman Hossam al-Queish earlier on Tuesday – a statement which has now been retracted.
The wife of Samaha, a university professor from Alexandria, called Egyptian media to rubbish the claims that her husband was involved.
The woman, who identified herself as Nahla, said her husband, with the same name, is not the hijacker and that he was on his way to Cairo en route to the United States to attend a conference.
She told the private TV network ONTV that her husband had never been to Cyprus and that a photo shown international news purporting to show the hijacker is not her husband.
Questions have been raised as to how the hijacker was able to embark on the plane wearing the suicide vest.
Egyptian authorities promised to tighten airport security in the wake of the downing of a Russian Metrojet airplane in October last year, where all 224 passengers died.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron said British diplomats are on the ground and in touch with Cypriot authorities.
‘The national security adviser is chairing a meeting of senior officials from across Whitehall to review the situation and to get the latest on what we know.
‘There is obviously speculation about the numbers [but] at this stage we are working to establish what the facts actually are and this is one of the things they will be discussing at this meeting of officials.’
‘It’s important that we establish the facts rather than speculate about numbers.’