A standoff lasted for more than five hours after a man hijacked an EgyptAir plane Tuesday morning and held multiple people hostage on the tarmac of Larnaca International Airport. The plane, en route to Cairo from Alexandria, Egypt, completed an emergency landing in Larnaca, Cyprus, where the man was ultimately arrested.
The hijacker was identified by Cypriot and Egyptian officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59. Ibrahim Samaha, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria University and a passenger aboard EgyptAir Flight 181, was previously incorrectly identified as the hijacker.
Mustafa, an Egyptian living in Cyprus, told the pilot that he was wearing a suicide belt and threatened to detonate it. The suicide vest he said he was wearing was later confirmed as fake, Reuters reported.
Fifty-six passengers, seven crew members and one EgyptAir security officer were on board the flight, according to a statement posted on Facebook by EgyptAir. The majority of the passengers were Egyptian but other passengers were from other countries, including Belgium, Greece, Italy and the United States, Hosni Hassan, a senior official at Borg el-Arab Airport in Alexandria, said.
Conflicting reports identify different motives.
Cypriot officials said the hijacker initially demanded that the plane fly to Turkey but later agreed to let it land in Cyprus after pilots told him they didn't have enough fuel for a longer flight, the New York Times reported.
A state broadcaster in Cyprus reported that Mustafa demanded the release of female prisoners in Egyptian jails and called for a meeting with his former wife, who lives in Cyprus. Witnesses said that when the plane landed, the hijacker threw a four-page letter, written in Arabic, onto the tarmac, and asked that it be delivered to his ex-wife, MetroUK reported. The ex-wife ultimately visited the airport and helped persuade Mustafa to surrender, the Cypriot broadcaster reported.
Mustafa eventually allowed everyone on board the plane to exit over the course of six hours, and no one was injured.
Egyptian authorities sent planes to pick up the freed passengers and return them to Egypt. Cyprus-bound flights were being diverted to Paphos Airport, the country’s second-busiest airport after Larnaca.
Mustafa, who lived in Cyprus until 1995, is a former Egyptian army officer who married a Cypriot woman with whom he had five children, including a daughter who died in a car crash, according to Cypriot news reports that could not be immediately confirmed. He and his ex-wife divorced in 1994, the Associated Press reported.
A senior Cypriot official said he was psychologically unstable and the incident did not appear related to terrorism, Reuters reported.
"He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy, but they aren’t stupid. This guy is," an official at Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs told The Guardian.
During a press conference, Cypriot President Nico Anastasiades said the incident "(had) nothing to do with terrorism."
An investigation into Mustafa's motives is still underway.
"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," said Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail. Ismail said Mustafa made no concrete demands.