EgyptAir hijacking: Suicide vest made of iPhone cases
WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
- The flight EgyptAir 181 was forced to make an emergency landing in Cyprus after it was hijacked. It was en-route to Alexandria
- The hijacker is being identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, who is in custody
- Aviation sources have told Reuters there were eight British nationals and 10 Americans on board the flight
- There were between 55 and 60 people on the flight when it was hijacked. All have now been released
THE man who hijacked an EgyptAir jet on Tuesday morning did so using nothing but a number of iPhone cases tied together with cloth, authorities in Egypt and Cyprus have said.
The first images are starting to emerge of the man believed to be the hijacker who diverted a plane from Cairo to Cyprus, leading to a tense six-hour stand-off.
Identified by officials as Egyptian national Seif Eldin Mustafa, the images purport to show a thin man in glasses, in his late forties or early fifties, sporting what looks like a suicide bomb belt.
But in a statement, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said they had determined the belt did not in fact contain any explosive material.
"Security in Cyprus confirmed that the explosive belt worn by the man who hijacked the plane was fake," it said.
A blurred Reuters image is believed to show Mustafa exiting the plane in a jacket along with the last remaining hostages onto the tarmac at Larcana airport.
And at a press conference shortly after the hijacker's arrest,Cyprus' Foreign Affairs Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the suspect surrendered voluntarily and was in a fragile mental state.
On motives, officials said the hijacker kept asking for "many things", including to go to another airport and to speak to an EU official as well as the previously-documented demands to see his ex-wife and for the release of political prisoners.
And, revealingly, Kasoulides said that the "explosives belt" the hijacker was wearing proved to be a number of phone covers.
Earlier, three images of Mustafa were alleged to have been taken at various points while the hostage situation was still ongoing inside the plane.
One shows clearly the device strapped round Mustafa's waist.
Another image shows Mustafa standing at the front of the plane on his own, and was taken from behind seats a number of rows away.
And a third shows Mustafa standing with an almost casual stance next to an unknown passenger, who appears to be grinning.
Earlier, the man was incorrectly named by officials as Ibrahim Samaha, an Egyptian vet based at the university in Alexandria.
But that was later corrected - not least when Dr Samaha himself spoke to the BBC to say he was a passenger on the flight and had since been released, while the hijacker was still on the plane.
The hijacker has been arrested ending the hostage situation at Larnaca Airport, Cyprus.
All hostages have escaped safely.
Authorities are working to determine the motive behind the dramatic hijacking. Despite early suggestions it was personal, political motives are also being investigated.
Video footage has emerged of a further three people leaving the plane - one through a window in the cockpit.
It's not yet clear who those people are.
More to come.
UPDATE 8.55 PM
REPORTS are coming out of Cyprus now suggesting the hijacker has demanded the release of political prisoners in Egypt.
According to Reuters, which is quoting Cyprus state TV, the hijacker wants a number of female inmates to be set free.
If true, it paints a very different light on a story which had appeared to be rather domestic.
Seven people are still believed to be held hostage on board the flight.
A man named by Egyptian authorities as the suspect who allegedly threatened a pilot with a suicide bomb has denied responsibility for the hijacking.
State television reported that Ibrahim Samaha, an Egyptian national aged 27 or 28 years old, diverted the EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo on Tuesday morning.
However, this is now in doubt after a Mr Samaha allegedly contacted the ABC to say he was not the hijacker.
According to media, Cyprus officials are now naming the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa.
Earlier Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters the incident appeared to be motivated by personal reasons.
"The hijacking is not terrorism-related," he said.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said: "He's not a terrorist, he's an idiot", in a statement.
"He is not a terrorist, he's an idiot. Terrorists are crazy, but they are not stupid. It's this guy."
WHAT WE KNOW:
- There were between 55 and 60 people on the flight when it was hijacked however everyone except for the flight crew and four foreigners have now been released.
- The flight EgyptAir 181 was forced to make an emergency landing in Cyprus after it was hijacked. It was en-route to Alexandria.
- Aviation sources have told Reuters there were eight British nationals and 10 Americans on board the flight.
WHAT WE DON'T KNOW:
- It is presently unclear which nations the hostages on board the plane are from.
- Several media outlets have named the hijacker as 27 year-old Ibrahim Samaha. It's no longer clear if this is the case.
- There are also reports stating security forces believe the hijacker may not have any explosives.
- The motivations of the hijacker and whether or not he is part of a terrorist group have not yet been officially confirmed, although early reports suggest he is not a terrorist.
Egypt Air Passenger Plane Hijacked. Egypt Air Flight MS181 Hijacked. https://t.co/acKoWyAT2q— NewsX (@NewsX) March 29, 2016
EARLIER: EgyptAir Flight 181 was was on a scheduled journey from Alexandria when it veered off course on Tuesday morning.
Androulla Vassiliou, the Cypriot former European Commissioner for Education, wrote on Twitter that the plane landed shortly before 7am.
"Hijacked aircraft of Egypt Air with 82 passengers landed at Larnaca airport," she wrote. "We are anxious to learn more."
The number of people on board was later revised to 55 by Cypriot state radio.
Satellite data recorded by the Flight Aware website showed the Airbus A320 took off from Borg El Arab Airport as scheduled but lists its status as "result unknown".
The situation at the Larnaca airport was unclear but Ms Vassilou said hijackers claimed to be prepared to release some passengers.
"Hijackers asked all police forces to leave the area in order to release women and children passengers," she wrote.
One Cypriot government official told the Associated Press there were suspicions a bomb is on board, while a second Cypriot official said it "seems like there's more than one hijacker".
He added there have been no demands other than that police vehicles move away from the aircraft.
EgyptAir confirmed its plane, numbered MS181, had been "officially hijacked" and that it would release a statement shortly.