Passengers who were on board of the hijacked EgyptAir MS181 aeroplane safely landed in Cairo International Airport on Tuesday evening.
The flight was hijacked Tuesday morning shortly after it departed from Borg El-Arab airport near Alexandria and forced to land in Larnaca airport in Cyprus, with at least 55 passengers and crew members on board.
Several hours later, and as negotiations for the safe release of passengers progressed, the hijacker was identified as Seif Eddin Mostafa, who claimed to be wearing an explosive belt to hijack the plane.
The Egyptian Ministry of Interior assured that all security measures were applied before plane take off, adding that Mosatfa was personally checked, as well as his luggage through electronic x-ray gates.
“His handbag was checked and contained personal non-prohibited belongings which he used to imply that he was wearing an explosive belt and threatened the crew and passengers,” the ministry said, adding that “his request to reroute the flight was approved for passengers and plane safety”.
The ministry said Mostafa was known to authorities, as he had a “criminal record with several crimes of forgery, impersonation, burglary and drug dealing”. It further claimed Mostafa—who is married to a Cypriot woman—was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery. He escaped during the revolution in January 2011.
A ministry official told Daily News Egypt earlier on Tuesday that the hijacker has a criminal record, having been charged with crimes such as forgery, burglary, drug dealing, and impersonation.
“Mostafa has a criminal record. The ministry archives reveal that he was sentenced to one year in prison for forgery. He escaped during the events of the 25 January Revolution but he surrendered himself to police in 2014. He was later released in 2015,” the ministry source clarified.
Meanwhile, a senior flight attendant who was on board of the hijacked plane told AlHayat local TV channel upon landing that he was the first person addressed by the hijacker, and continued as a negotiator throughout the operation until passengers were safely freed from the plane and the hijacker was arrested.
“I was surprised to find him standing behind me. He told me he was a wearing a suicide belt, showing me something wrapped around his waist,” the eyewitness said, adding that the hijacker threatened to detonate it if the crew attempted to land in Cairo. He then asked to be directed to Cyprus, Lebanon or Turkey.
“We had to avoid any sort of panic among passengers, especially as we did not know at first whether he had partners on board,” he added.
Other witnesses told the media that the hijacker collected their passports, following which he released women and children, then men, with the exception of a few non-Egyptians. They also said they did not directly speak with the hijacker and that communication took place through the flight attendants.
A woman said the flight attendants informed them of the situation when they inquired as to why their passports were being collected, and convinced them to stay calm until landing to avoid “angering the hijacker”, assuring them they would land in Cyprus.
The hostage situation on-board the EgyptAir MS181 was resolved, with all passengers and crew members freed. The hijacker was arrested by the Cypriot authorities.
The Cypriot foreign ministry announced that the hijacker was arrested at about 2.00 pm, more than seven hours after the hijacking.