The hijacker of an EgyptAir passenger jet was arrested at Cyprus’ Larnaca airport after a five-hour standoff. No one was hurt in the incident after the man surrendered to authorities.
The EgyptAir domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked on Tuesday morning and forced to divert to the island.
Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said the pilot of the plane, Omar al-Gammal, was threatened by a passenger strapped with explosives, but it later said the hijacker’s suicide belt was fake.
Photographs shown on Egyptian state television showed a middle-aged man, named by Cypriot authorities as Seif el-Din Mustafa, on a plane wearing glasses and displaying a white belt with bulging pockets and protruding wires.
“From the search of the aircraft, no explosives were found – not on the 59-year-old suspect, nor on the aircraft itself,” Cypriot police spokesman Andreas Angelides told reporters.
Egypt’s interior ministry released a video showing the suspect going through security checks at Alexandria’s Borg al-Arab Airport, as well as a photograph of the x-ray of his carry-on bag. The ministry said the alleged hijacker had later assembled his fake explosive belt from permitted personal belongings in the bag.
Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker’s motives.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said the man seemed to have a personal motive and the incident was “not related to terrorism”. Cyprus state TV said he wanted to contact his ex-wife, who is Greek-Cypriot and lives in Larnaca.
Earlier reports said the man demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.
EgyptAir said flight 181 had 81 people on board, including a crew of seven. Most were released shortly after landing in Cyprus.
At 11:30 GMT, the last seven people were seen leaving the aircraft, one whom escaped though the cockpit window.
Speaking to reporters after the crisis ended, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the hijacker was an Egyptian national but that his motives remained unclear.
“At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport, but there was nothing specific,” he said, adding the man would now be questioned to ascertain his motives.
Farrah El Dibany, who was on board the flight at the time of the hijacking, said passengers noticed that there was something wrong when they saw the sea out of the plane window.
“It was a bit weird to see the sea because usual when you go to Cairo you don’t pass by the Mediterranean Sea,” she told Al Jazeera after the end of the ordeal.
“Then one of the cabin crew passed by all of the passengers and collected all the passports without saying any reason – he just said that they had a problem, that they cannot say anything more … and about 45 minutes later one of the cabin crew members told us that we’ve been hijacked and that was it. They didn’t say by whom, or what his demands, are or where we’re heading,” she added.
“I was horrified,” she continued. “I had several scenarios on my mind, trying to figure out what can happen and I was trying to make peace with it.”
Cypriot foreign ministry official Alexandros Zenon told reporters that during the crisis the hijacker appeared to be “unstable”.
Witnesses told Cyprus Mail newspaper the man threw a letter on the tarmac of the airport in Larnaca, written in Arabic, asking that it be delivered to his ex-wife.
“Our passengers are all well and the crew is all well … We cannot say this was a terrorist act … he was not a professional,” Egypt’s Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy told reporters.
Egypt’s vital tourism industry was already reeling from the downing of a Russian passenger plane in the Sinai in late October.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said it was brought down by an attack. Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) has said it planted a bomb, killing all 224 people on board.