After a seven-hour hostage situation, the alleged hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus A32 was arrested by Cypriot security forces, following the release of 55 passengers onboard.
The hijacked plane was originally scheduled to fly from Borg Al-Arab airport in Alexandria to Cairo, but rerouted to Larnaca, Cyprus following a passenger’s attempt to hijack the plane after claiming he was wearing an explosive belt.
Cypriot Government spokesperson Nicos Christodoulides confirmed on his social media account that the hijacker was detained following his surrender.
The hijacker is a 59-year-old Egyptian accountant named Seif Eddin Mostafa. Hours into the standoff, two photos depicting Mostafa on the plane were circulated online. One photo shows him standing in the aisle, while the other showed him wearing what looked like a bomb belt around his waist.
Footage from Cypriot TV showed Mostafa descending from the plane with his hands raised.EgyptAir said that Cyprus later confirmed that the explosives belt was a fake.
The plane’s pilot, Amr Al-Gammal, told Daily News Egypt that the flight crew and passengers were safe following the hijacker’s surrender.
A family member of the co-pilot said that that the passengers and crew were transferred to a safe place and are awaiting investigations.
Minister of Aviation Sherif Fathy praised the performance of the flight crew and said they acted professionally and calmly throughout the incident, without panicking. Fathy also said the pilot’s decision to divert the route of the plane was wise as he did not want to endanger the lives of the passengers.
Fathy added that the pilot’s cabin was not opened during the incident.
Security sources said that Mostafa was scheduled to take another flight to New York once he arrived in Cairo. The Cairo-New York flight was delayed after Fathy ordered for the plane and its passengers to be re-inspected.
Following the hijacker’s arrest, the Interior Ministry published screenshots from security camera footage monitoring the checkpoint through which passengers passed in Alexandria.
The footage showed Mostafa passing through a metal detector.
Egyptian state media claimed that Mostafa demanded that the plane be refueled upon its arrival in Lanarca and be ready to travel to Turkey. Media reports also claimed that he demanded the release of women from Egyptian prisons.
The Egyptian government, however, did not confirm the claim. Prime Minister Sheirf Ismail said authorities would interrogate the Mostafa regarding the validity of the claim. Also, Minister of Aviation Sherif Fathy said he doubts the incident can be labeled a terrorist act.
Prior to the hostages’ release, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters: “In any case, it is [a hijacking], not something which has to do with terrorism.”
Similarly, Cypriot foreign ministry official Alexandros Zenon told journalists: “what we have clarified … is that it’s not about terrorism. It appears to be a person who is unstable, in an unstable psychological state and the issue is being handled accordingly.”
Negotiations with the hijacker resulted in freeing the passengers during the course of three phases. The first stage included 52 passengers and the second and third included the remaining. Fathy refused to reveal the nationalities of the foreign passengers onboard.
The hijacker first demanded that the pilot reroute to Turkey, but the pilot convinced him that there was not enough fuel to afford this route, a family member of the pilot told Daily News Egypt.
Amid the chaos of the situation, media reports mislabeled the hijacker as Ibrahim Samaha. Samaha, a professor at Alexandria University, denied being behind the hijacking and told BBC he was among other 52 freed passengers.
The Egyptian presidency released a statement thanking the Cypriot government for its effort and cooperation. The presidency praised the quick reaction of airport police and praised Egypt’s tight relations with Cyprus.
Egypt’s prosecutor-general has ordered an immediate investigation into incident.