30 Mar 2016

EgyptAir hijack suspect 'wanted to see estranged wife'

11:46 pm on 30 March 2016

An Egyptian man accused of hijacking a passenger plane and diverting it to Cyprus has told police he wanted to see his estranged wife and children, saying "what should one do?"

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus A-320, which was diverted to Cyprus, leaves the plane before surrendering to security forces after a six-hour standoff.

A man believed to be the hijacker of the EgyptAir Airbus A320, which was diverted to Cyprus. Photo: AFP

The suspect, whom Cypriot and Egyptian authorities identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, surrendered after commandeering a domestic Alexandria-Cairo flight with 72 passengers and crew on board.

A court in the Cyprion city of Larnaca ordered him to be held in custody for eight days on suspicion of hijacking, abduction, threatening violence, terrorism-related offences and two counts related to possession of explosives.

The latter counts were connected to his claim of being strapped with explosives, even though the belt he wore is believed to be fake.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said after examining the belt they found "they were not explosives but phone covers made up to give the impression they were explosives".

The drama ended with all passengers released unhurt at Larnaca airport and the man giving himself up.

See how it unfolded with RNZ's live blog here

The Egyptair plane left Larnaca at 10.05pm local time (8.05am NZT) bound for Cairo, its original destination.

Questions over security

Egypt's tourism ministry insisted all airport security measures had been "fully implemented" before Egyptair Flight MS181 began its flight earlier in the day.

CCTV footage released by the interior ministry shows Mr Mustafa being frisked at two security checks and passing a slim bag through X-ray machines.

The BBC's Youssef Taha said Egypt had taken steps to improve airport security after Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown up over Sinai last October.

Those included an extra $1 billion a year and a deal with British consultancy Control Risks to review procedures at Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh and Marsa Alam Airports.

Despite this, the correspondent said checks remained inconsistent, with many VIPs and MPs refusing to be searched and airport and airline staff routinely bypassing full security screening.

An EgyptAir Airbus A320 sits on the tarmac of Larnaca aiport after it was hijacked and diverted to Cyprus on 29 March 2016.

The EgyptAir Airbus A320 sits on the tarmac of Larnaca Aiport Photo: AFP

'Always a woman involved'

After a standoff lasting several hours, the hijacker walked down aircraft steps and surrendered to Cypriot security forces.

Shortly before that, several people were seen fleeing the aircraft, including one person, apparently a crew member, who climbed out of a cockpit window.

Other passengers had left the plane after appearing to have been released.

Earlier, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had responded to a reporter's question about whether the hijacker was motivated by romance, by laughing and saying: "Always there is a woman involved."

Egyptair said the Airbus A320 was carrying 56 passengers from Alexandria to Cairo, along with six crew and a security official.

A statement from Egypt's civil aviation ministry said 26 foreign passengers were on board, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch citizens, two Belgians, two Greeks, a French national, an Italian and a Syrian.

- BBC, Reuters