Egyptian plane hijacked: Most passengers released, 4 foreigners & crew still on-board

Posted at 6:19 AM, Mar 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-29 06:19:07-04

[Breaking news update at 5:43 a.m. ET]

An Egyptian presidential spokesman said the correct name of the EgyptAir Flight 181 hijacker is Seif El Din Mustafa, an Egyptian national. Earlier, the same spokesman said an Egyptian-American dual citizen of a different name was responsible.

[Breaking news update at 5:32 a.m. ET]

Three passengers and four crew members are still on board a hijacked EgyptAir plane that was forced to land in Cyprus, Egyptian Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fathy Ateyya said Tuesday.

Officials don’t know whether the hijacker really has an explosive belt, as he claimed, “but we are treating it as if it is real,” Ateyya said.

[Previous story, published at 5:23 a.m. ET]

(CNN) — An Egyptian-American dual citizen hijacked an EgyptAir flight over his ex-wife, officials said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Cyprus Ministry of Transport said the incident is not related to terrorism, but rather the hijacker’s ex-wife.

EgyptAir Flight MS181, en route from Alexandria, Egypt, to Cairo, was forced to land at Larnaca airport in Cyprus.

Pilot Omar El Gamal reported a threat from a passenger claiming to have an explosive belt, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry said.

Aviation Ministry spokesman Ehab Raslan said he doesn’t think the hijacker actually has explosives.

“I doubt that he had explosives because security has been heightened across all Egyptian airports. But we will be able to confirm later,” Raslan said.

He said an Egyptian team is negotiating with the hijacker.

‘Old-fashioned terrorism’

The hijacking is “a more old-fashioned type of terrorism,” according to one analyst.

“It is rare these days to have these kinds of negotiations to be taking place,” Sajjan Gohel, Asia-Pacific Foundation London, said.

“Many of the hostages have been released which is a very good sign.”

Analyst Geoffrey Thomas from told CNN it was unclear whether the claim of an explosive device was real, “but if it is, how on earth did he get it on board?”

All flights into Larnaca airport are being diverted to Paphos airport on the southwest coast of the island, a spokesperson for the Cyprus Civil aviation authority tells CNN.

Passengers released

Negotiations with the hijacker have resulted in the release of all passengers, except for seven crew and five foreigners, a statement from the Egyptian ministry of civil aviation said.

A statement from the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry says that there are five foreign nationals and seven Egyptian crew members aboard the hijacked EgyptAir flight.

Earlier, the ministry and EgyptAir had said there were four foreign nationals.

According the ministry, the non-Egyptian passengers include eight Americans, four Dutch, two Belgians, four Britons, one Syrian, one French and one Italian.

The statement did not specify which of these passengers remain on board.

Scores on board

The Airbus 320 EgyptAir flight, designated MS181, had at least 81 people on board, according to the ministry, before the majority of passengers were deplaned.

Tom Ballentyne, chief correspondent for Oriental Aviation, tells CNN that airline protocol would have taken this scenario into account.

“Pilots will have a special signal they can use to airport traffic control, it might be a code word or a signal they can use that will alert air traffic control that there is problem,” he says.

“Pilots are instructed not to open the cockpit, so what we don’t know is how he got into the cockpit”

Questionable air security

“This is different to issues of airport security that we have seen recently” the Asia-Pacific Foundation London’s Gohel said.

The hijacking comes months after a Russian Metrojet passenger plane was downed over Egypt’s Sinai desert. While Russian authorities insisted the plane crash was the result of terrorism, one U.S. official said it was “99.9% certain” the cause. Another said it was “likely.”

“Ever since the Metrojet plane was blown up it has been confirmed that there are lapses in Egyptian security,” Gohel added.

Egypt was insisting that airports were safe, and that tourists should come back. But this is going to raise a lot of questions about just how safe the country, and its air travel is, CNN’s Ian Lee says.

Questions about the amount of security at the airports, have been raised, but the quality of the security.