Update: EgyptAir says all hostages released, hijacker arrested

EgyptAir officially declared the hijack of one of its planes to be over at around 1 pm on Tuesday, with all hostages released and the hijacker arrested in Cyprus, where the plane was forced to land earlier in the day. 

A passenger hijacked EgyptAir flight 181, which was on route from Alexandria to Cairo, forcing the plane to land in Lanarca, Cyprus.

There have been conflicting reports as to the identity and motives of the hijacker. Citing Egypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Reuters reported the hijacker asked to meet with a representative of the European Union. Cypriot state television said he called for the release of female prisoners in Egypt.

The flight was carrying 56 passengers and seven crew members, the Aviation Ministry said in a statement. All but seven people on board were released immediately. 

Egypt’s aviation minister reported in a televised press conference that three crew members, a security officer and three passengers remained on board the plane, but refused to give their names and nationalities. All onboard were later released, EgyptAir reported, with an image circulating of at least one person escaping from the cockpit of the plane. 

The pilot reported the hijacker was wearing an explosive belt, according to the Associated Press, but a Cypriot minister denied this, saying the plane was being searched for explosive materials. 

Cyprus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified the hijacker as Seif Eddin Mostafa, although he was identified earlier in the day as Ibrahim Samaha. Egypt’s aviation minister said he wouldn’t speculate on the identity or nationality of the hijacker for “security reasons.” 

Egyptian state television initially asserted that the hijacker was Samaha, an Egyptian professor at Alexandria University, and reported that he demanded a four-page letter be delivered to his ex-wife, who allegedly lives in Cyprus. The hijacker’s ex-wife arrived at the airport mid-morning on Tuesday, with officials hoping she’d talk sense into her love-sick partner, according to a Guardian reporter at the airport, although this wasn’t confirmed. 

A source from Borg al-Arab airport told Mada Masr Samaha has American citizenship, but was unable to confirm he was the hijacker. A woman claiming to be the Alexandrian professor’s wife phoned ONtv, claiming he was one of the hostages and that pictures released were not of her husband. 

A spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the incident, saying the hijacker is “an idiot, not a terrorist.” Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades also said the hijacking is not related to “terrorism.”

Social media users jumped on the story of the love-sick professor, and even the Cypriot president said, “Always there is a woman.”

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reportedly called his Cypriot counterpart Tuesday morning to discuss the hijacking.

EgyptAir announced Tuesday afternoon that they would be sending a flight to Cyprus to return passengers to Egypt. 

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