The suspected hijacker of an EgyptAir airliner who surrendered after hours of negotiations on the tarmac of a Cypriot airport has been labelled an “idiot” by officials, rather than a terrorist.
The man, identified by Cypriot officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa, was arrested on Tuesday night at Larnaca airport. He was reportedly dressed in what resembled a suicide belt.
The Airbus A320 was scheduled to fly between the Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo, but was diverted by the hijacker to Cyprus.
During negotiations, Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades said the incident was not terrorism-related. Asked by reporters if a woman was involved, he said: “There is always a woman involved.”
The question was prompted by widespread unconfirmed reports that the man was “love-sick” and had diverted the plane to see his Cypriot ex-wife.
The hijacker reportedly asked for political asylum and demanded to see the woman, who was escorted to the airport by officials, according to journalists at the scene. He was also described as psychologically unstable by multiple reports citing local officials.
At a press conference after the hijacker’s arrest, Egyptian prime minister Sherif Ismail said the man was an Egyptian national whose motives were still unclear.
“At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” Mr Ismail said.
Flight MS181 took off from Alexandria at 7.05am local time (3.05pm AEDT), with 56 people of various nationalities on board, along with six crew and a security official. It touched down in Larnaca about 45 minutes later, where negotiations got under way.
The hijacker released women and children first, then most of the remaining passengers and crew, until only the captain, co-pilot, a stewardess and a security guard remained.
The foreigners on board reportedly included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. No Australians were named.
While this incident was seemingly unrelated to terrorism, Egypt continues to struggle to battle an insurgency by jihadi militants, led by local allies of Islamic State (IS).
In January, two suspected militants stabbed and wounded two Austrian tourists and a Swede at a hotel in Egypt’s Red Sea resort city of Hurghada.
The attack came only hours after local IS terrorists claimed responsibility for an attack on a hotel in Cairo a day earlier, populated by Arab Israeli tourists.
In 1996, a group of Afghans diverted a Sudan Airways flight to Stansted, also via Larnaca. One of the men ended up working as a cleaner for British Airways at Heathrow airport.
Another examples of hijacking for political asylum included the case of Ethiopian Airlines flight 702, which was flying from Addis Ababa to Rome in February 2014, when it was hijacked by the co-pilot.
The plane eventually landed safely in Geneva, where Swiss police arrested the co-pilot after it was found he had hijacked the plane to demand political asylum in Switzerland.