Malta hijackers surrender: PM

#LibyaCrisis

One passenger on board flight is reported to be Libyan deputy from House of Representatives

Passengers are seen leaving hijacked Airbus A320 at Malta Airport on Friday (Reuters)
MEE and agencies's picture
Last update: 
Saturday 24 December 2016 1:21 UTC
Topics: 
Tags: 

The passengers and crew have been released from a hijacked Libyan plane which was diverted to Malta with 118 people on board on Friday.

The hijackers - who told Libyan TV that they were part of a pro-Gaddafi party, according to Reuters - surrendered and were taken into custody.

TV pictures have shown several groups descending the steps of the Airbus A320 at Malta Airport before being shepherded on to waiting buses by Maltese military.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that most of the 111 on board have been released, including women and children:

But two hijackers and some crew remain.

Earlier the Times of Malta reported that the hijackers were members of the group Al Fatah Al Gadida, which supported former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. One of the hijackers emerged after many of those on board had been released and waved a green flag of the Libyan republic under Gaddafi.



A man believed to be a hijacker emerges from the plane and waves the flag of Gaddafi-era Libya (screenshot/TVM)

One of the passengers on board the plane was reported to be a Libyan deputy from the House of Representatives.

There had been confusion as to the number of hijackers on board. Maltese government sources told AFP that there was a single hijacker, who had told the crew that he had a grenade and would release the passengers only if his as yet unspecified demands were met.

But a source from Libya's unity government spoke of "hijackers" on board. And a source at state-owned Afriqiyah Airways - which operates the plane - said two hijackers had threatened the pilots with an explosive device, probably a grenade.

Blast from the past? Gaddafi's 1980s wave of terror

This is the first terrorist incident involving Gaddafi forces since the 1980s.

The 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73, led to the deaths of 20 people, five of them American.

Gaddafi initially denied responsibility but paid $150m in compensation to surviving American victims in 2008.

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew, as well as 11 others on the ground.

The flight departed from London and was heading for New York City, and most of the passengers were American.

Three years later, a suitcase bomb blew up French airplane UTA Flight 772 above Niger in 1989, killing all 170 people on board, most of them French.

A French court convicted Gaddafi’s brother-in-law Abdullah Senussi and five others in 1999. Without admitting responsibility, Libya paid $170m in compensation.

Gaddafi’s reign of terror was not limited to hijacking airplanes, however.

In 1986, his government was linked to a bombing at the La Belle disco in west Berlin, killing two American servicemen, a Turkish woman and injuring more than 200 others.

Then US President Ronald Reagan bombed Tripoli and Benghazi in response, killing 37 and wounding 93 others. Lockerbie was reportedly Gaddafi’s retaliation, showing the depth of enmity between Gaddafi’s Libya and the West, during the 1980s especially.

The former Libyan dictator also armed the Northern Irish IRA during the 1970s and 1980s.

Asylum

Reports have emerged that at least one hijacker wants to seek asylum.

Maltese soldiers have taken up positions at the airport, from which all other flights have been diverted or canceled.

A source from Libya's unity government told AFP:  "Negotiations are underway to guarantee the security of all the passengers." The source did not say who was negotiating.



The route of the hijacked Airbus over Libya towards Malta

The Airbus A320 was flying from Sebha in southwest Libya to Tripoli. Malta is about 500km north of the Libyan coast.

A senior Libyan security official told Reuters that when the plane was still in flight on Friday morning the pilot told the control tower at Tripoli's Mitiga airport it had been hijacked.

"The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused."

Only local airlines - banned from European airspace - operate in Libya, with flights to Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Istanbul and Khartoum.