An EgyptAir airliner was hijacked Tuesday morning and forced to land in southern Cyprus, officials said.
Flight MS181 landed at Larnaca airport at 8.50 a.m. local time (0550GMT), police spokesman Andreas Angelides said, according to the Cyprus Mail website.
Angelides said an armed hijacker seized the aircraft, identified as an Airbus A320, at around 8.30 am local time after take-off from Alexandria en route to Cairo. The airline said 81 people were on the flight while the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CyBC) reported 55 passengers and seven crew on the plane.
The hijacker has been identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa. Reports say the lone hijacker wants to talk to his estranged Cypriot wife.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters the hijack was not a terrorist incident.
“Our flight MS181 is officially hijacked”, EgyptAir tweeted. EgyptAir later said that all passengers except the crew and four foreigners were released. “Negotiations with the kidnapped result in the release of all the passengers, except the crew and four foreigners,” the airline tweeted. Earlier, it said five foreigners were still being held.
A source at Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said 30 Egyptians and 26 foreigners were aboard the flight. The head of Alexandria’s Borg al-Arab airport said 30 Egyptians, eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians and an Italian were aboard the flight.
In a statement, the ministry said pilot Omar al-Gammal had informed the authorities that he had been threatened by a passenger with a suicide belt.
An Egyptian government spokesman said the hijacker had initially asked to be flown to Istanbul but the pilot told him there was not enough fuel.
The Cypriot Mail reported he had demanded to talk to his former wife, a Cypriot, and said she was being brought to the airport, where the hijacked plane is sitting in a cordoned off area.
Nicos Anastasiades, the leader of Greek Cypriot administration, postponed a meeting with European Parliament President Martin Schulz and had been in touch with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, a spokesman said.
“It looks like at least 49 of the passengers have been freed,” Anastasiades told reporters.