Differing numbers of passengers and crew, mistaken identities, and conflicting reports on the motives behind the operation circulated for hours among media reports of the hijacked EgyptAir flight on Tuesday and officials’ statements until the situation was resolved.
Since the early official statements that confirmed the hijacking of the EgyptAir MS 181 aeroplane, facts were unclear and the first question was: how many passengers and crew members are on the plane?
An early statement by EgyptAir said the plane carried 81 passengers without mentioning the number of crew members and even misspelling the pilot’s name as Omar Al-Gamal instead of Amr Al-Gammal. The numbers were corrected later to 56, as the chief of Borg Al-Arab airport explained there was “confusion”.
The same official, General Hosny Hassan, reiterated a piece of information that has been circulating via Egyptian security sources for almost an hour but without official confirmation: that the hijacker is Ibrahim Samaha, a visiting professor at a University in Atlanta who holds dual Egyptian and US nationalities.
The name ran in all news reports across the globe before Samaha denied that he is the hijacker in a phone call to BBC, and told the world he was freed along with a first batch of liberated passengers following negotiations with the hijacker. The hijacker was later identified by the Cypriot authorities as Seif Eddin Mostafa.
A press conference by Minister of Civil Aviation Sherif Fathy more than four hours after the hijacking was expected to answer many questions. The minister however requested that journalists not ask questions that would not aid the investigation or “security work” in the situation. He refused to identify the hijacker or the nationalities of passengers who were held hostage.
Further exacerbating the situation were the conflicting reports on the motives behind the hijacking. According to certain sources, the motive ranged between the hijacker being “love-sick” to him demanding that female political prisoners in Egypt be freed. Once again, the only official clarification came via Cypriot officials, when president Nicos Anastasiades stated “it has nothing to do with terrorism”.