Fake suicide belt used in Egypt hijack

Banner 3
Banner 3

An Egyptian hijacker who forced a domestic flight to land in Cyprus used a fake suicide belt, officials said.

His motives remain unclear but the Cypriot president said the incident was not terrorism-related.

Footage released by Egypt’s interior ministry shows the man passing through several security checks at Alexandria’s Borg El Arab airport.

The drama ended with all passengers released unhurt at Larnaca airport and the man giving himself up.

Cypriot officials named the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa and said he was “psychologically unstable”.

Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said Mustafa had initially asked to speak with his Cypriot ex-wife, who police brought to the airport, before making a series of “incoherent” demands.

Police in Cairo were questioning Mustafa’s relatives, AP news agency reported.

The Egyptair plane left Larnaca at 22:05 local time (19:05 GMT) bound for Cairo, its original destination.

Egypt’s tourism ministry insisted all airport security measures had been “fully implemented” before Egyptair Flight MS181 began its flight earlier in the day.

CCTV footage released by the interior ministry shows Mustafa being frisked at two security checks and passing a slim bag through x-ray machines.

The BBC’s Youssef Taha says Egypt has taken steps to improve airport security after Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown up over Sinai last October.

They include an extra $1bn a year and a deal with British consultancy Control Risks to review procedures at Cairo, Sharm El-Sheikh and Marsa Alam airports.

Despite this, our correspondent says checks remain inconsistent, with many VIPs and MPs refusing to be searched and airport and airline staff routinely bypassing full security screening.

It is only some small comfort that the man who hijacked Egyptair flight MS181 was bluffing. The bulging white “suicide belt” with wires sticking out turned out to be a fake.

It at least means that this time Egypt cannot be accused of letting someone smuggle explosives through airport security and on to an airliner as they did in October at Sharm El-Sheikh airport, destroying a Russian passenger jet in mid-air.

But it still triggers a number of worrying questions about aviation security.

How was it that a passenger, described by the Cypriot authorities as “mentally unstable” was able to carry enough materials through Alexandria airport to resemble a bomb?

And what is to stop any future airline passenger, similarly unarmed, from pretending that he or she has a real device strapped to them?

For Egypt’s battered tourism industry, which has yet to recover from the October airline bombing, this hijack is a further blow it can ill afford.

‘Always a woman involved’

After a standoff lasting several hours, the hijacker walked down aircraft steps and surrendered to Cypriot security forces.

Shortly before that, several people were seen fleeing the aircraft, including one person, apparently a crew member, who climbed out of a cockpit window.

Other passengers had left the plane after appearing to have been released.

Earlier, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades had responded to a reporter’s question about whether the hijacker was motivated by romance, by laughing and saying: “Always there is a woman involved.”

Egyptair said the Airbus A320 was carrying 56 passengers from Alexandria to Cairo, along with six crew and a security official.

A statement from Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said 26 foreign passengers were on board, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch citizens, two Belgians, two Greeks, a French national, an Italian and a Syrian.