Libyan jet hijack drama ends in Malta, hostages released (Fifth Lead)
Valletta (Malta), Dec 23 (IANS) A Libhyan jetliner hijack drama ended peacefully at Malta International Airport on Friday and all 118 persons aboard were safely rescued, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed in a series of tweets.
A man believed to be from the pro-Gaddafi group Al Fatah Al Gadida hijacked the Airbus A320 aircraft from Tripoli with crew and passengers that included 28 women and a child.
“Hijackers surrendered, searched and taken in custody,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in a series of tweets.
While the Prime Minister talked of “hijackers”, local media referred to a lone man who commandeered the aircraft.
The hijacker earlier told the 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.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising in 2011, and the country has been racked by factional violence since.
It was not known what the demands of the hijacker or hijackers were and if it was an act of terrorism or the result of the bitter Libyan political feud.
One German report said they were demanding the release of Saif Gaddafi, the second son of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The claim was confirmed when a hijacker was seen at the aircraft door waving the former green Libya flag.
Prime Minister Muscat earlier confirmed on Twitter that “The #Afriqiyah flight from #Sabha to #Tripoli has been diverted and has landed in #Malta. Security services coordinating operations.”
He added: “It has been established that #Afriqiyah flight has 111 passengers on board. 82 males, 28 females, 1 infant.”
Libya’s UN-backed government confirmed the hijacking and its forced diversion to Malta, Libya’s state news agency LANA reported.
All passengers aboard the plane were in good health, an unnamed official at the Libyan Foreign Ministry told the agency.
“(Libyan) Foreign Minister Mohammed Sayala has immediately started intense contacts with his Maltese counterpart and the government there,” the official added.
Security personnel took up positions a few hundred metres from the plane as it stood on the Malta tarmac.
All flights at Malta International Airport were cancelled or diverted, it said.
The aircraft was flying from Sebha in southwest Libya to Tripoli for state-owned Afriqiyah Airways, a route that would usually take a little over two hours.
The tiny Mediterranean island of Malta is about 500 km north of the Libyan coast.
Passengers waiting in the departure lounge near the gates were being moved towards the open ground by the Schengen Passport area.
The last major hijack incident in Malta took place in November 23, 1985, when an EgyptAir Boeing 737 was diverted to the island nation.
A 24-hour ordeal then ended in a bloody massacre with 62 people dead when Egyptian commandos stormed the plane. Only one of the three hijackers survived and was brought to justice.
Forty-three years ago then Prime Minster Dom Mintoff managed to negotiate the release of 247 passengers and eight air hostesses on board a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, which was also hijacked over Iraq and flown to Malta.
The passengers and air hostesses were released in return for fuel. The plane had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. The hijackers eventually surrendered and the plane later left Malta.