The EgyptAir plane hostage situation at Larnaca airport in Cyprus has ended after the alleged hijacker was arrested, the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
A man who claimed to have an explosive vest had been holding seven people hostage aboard an EgyptAir plane after forcing it to divert to the Mediterranean island during a domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo.
The airline said the plane, flight number MS181, was carrying 56 passengers, including 26 foreigners, and seven crew, as well as a security officer.
Minutes before the alleged hijacker was arrested a number of people were seen leaving the plane, walking down the stairs, with one climbing out of a cockpit window, before being led away by security officers.
Announcing the end of the hostage situation, the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter: “It’s over. The hijacker arrested.”
EgyptAir confirmed that all the hostages have been released, saying: “Official sources at EgyptAir declared the release of all the hostages and the arrest ofthe hijacker.”
Cyprus government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides also confirmed the end of the hijacking, tweeting: “The hijacker has just been arrested.”
A number of Britons and an Irish national are thought to have been aboard the flight.
Almost all of the passengers were released soon after the plane landed at Larnaca airport, shortly before 9am on Tuesday.
It was claimed the man was wearing a suicide vest. Egyptian ministers were unable to confirm the report but said they were treating it as a “real threat”.
A motive for the hijacking remains unclear, but Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades said it was “not something which has to do with terrorism”.
Some reports suggested the incident was related to the hijacker’s ex-wife, while others reported that he was asking for the release of political prisoners in Egypt.
All of the plane’s crew were also released safely, officials said.
The alleged hijacker has been named by Cypriot government officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa, whose nationality has not been confirmed.
Amid confusing scenes the hostage-taker was initially named by Egyptian authorities as university professor Dr Ibrahim Samaha, but a man by that name denied having anything to do with the hijacking, saying he was a passenger who was among those released.
Dr Samaha described the situation on board during the flight, telling the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “We did not know what was going on. We got on board the plane and we were surprised that the crew took all our passports, which is unusual for a domestic flight.
“After a while we realised the altitude was getting higher, then we knew we were heading to Cyprus. At first the crew told us there was a problem with the plane and only later did we know it was hijacked.”
The hijacking will raise serious concerns over security at Egyptian airports, and one aviation expert claimed the incident was a return to “the security stone age”.
David Learmount said it appeared the captain of the flight “didn’t have faith in the security systems” and felt he had to follow the hijacker’s demands, resulting in the “first major successful hijack since 9/11”.
But he said the captain should have been confident that it was “impossible” for someone to have got through security with a suicide belt.
He said: “It is taking us back to the security stone age – pre 9/11 when we had lots and lots of regular hijacks because the drill at that time was ‘do what the hijacker asks of you and we will deal with it on the ground with negotiators on the ground’.”
The incident comes just five months after 224 people were killed when a Russian aircraft crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula minutes after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft in October, and the extremist Islamic State group (IS) said it was responsible.