Libyan plane hijack drama ends at Malta airport, hijackers surrender

Published: December 23, 2016
People disembark from a hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 on the runway at Malta Airport, December 23, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

People disembark from a hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 on the runway at Malta Airport, December 23, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The hijackers of a Libyan plane that landed in Malta earlier on Friday have left the aircraft and surrendered after releasing all the passengers and crew, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

“Hijackers surrendered, searched and taken in custody,” Muscat tweeted.

Earlier, women and children were released from the hijacked plane, the Maltese PM had said. “First group of passengers, consisting of women and children, being released now,” he said on Twitter.

An airliner on an international flight in Libya was hijacked and diverted to Malta where it landed on Friday, Maltese media reported.

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The Airbus A320 was flying inside Libya for state-owned airline Afriqiyah Airways with 118 people aboard, the reports said. The two hijackers had threatened to blow the plane up, outlets including the Times of Malta reported.

The hijacker told crew he was “pro-Gaddafi” and that he was willing to let all 111 passengers leave the Airbus A320, but not its seven crew, if his demands were met, the Times of Malta said.

It was unclear what the demands were. Some media reports said there was more than one hijacker. Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising in 2011, and the country has been racked by factional violence since.

Troops took up positions a few hundred meters (yards) from the plane as it stood on the tarmac and no one was seen boarding or leaving it. The aircraft’s engines were still running 45 minutes after it landed late in the morning, the Times of Malta said.

Some other flights at Malta International Airport were canceled or diverted, it said.


Maltese troops survey a hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 on the runway at Malta Airport. PHOTO: REUTERS

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Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted: “Informed of potential hijack situation of a #Libya internal flight diverted to #Malta. Security and emergency operations standing by -JM”.

The pilot of an Afriqiyah Airways plane that was due to land at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport on Friday told the control tower there that the aircraft had been hijacked, a senior security official at the airport said.

“The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused.” Large numbers of security officials could be seen at Mitiga airport after news of the hijacking.

Libya has been in a state of chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi left warring militias battling for control of different parts of the country.

Forces loyal to a fledgling national unity government recently took  control of the coastal city of Sirte, which had been a bastion for the Islamic State group since June 2015.

Western powers have pinned their hopes of containing jihadism in the energy-rich North African state on the government but it has failed to establish its authority over all of the country.

A rival authority rules the country’s far east, backed by the forces under military strongman Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who have been battling militants in second city Benghazi.

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