The Malta Independent 27 April 2017, Thursday

Hijackers surrender - PM; hijackers had identical 'replica' weapons - government

Friday, 23 December 2016, 11:34 Last update: about 4 months ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the hijackers on the Libyan plane which was hijacked on its way to Tripoli and diverted to Malta "surrendered, (were) searched, and (were) taken into custody."

Four hours after the Afriqiyah Airways A320 landed in Malta, the two hijackers gave themselves up to the Maltese authorities after they had first released the other 109 passengers and seven members of the crew.

The plane landed in Malta this morning at 11.32am, with sources initially saying that two hijackers on board the flight were threatening to blow up the aircraft. It had left Sebha at 10.10am on its way to Tripoli, but it was hijacked and diverted to Malta. TVM is reporting that the hijackers are armed with hand grenades and are Gaddafi supporters. One of them sported Libya's national flag at the time Muammar Gaddafi was in power.

Ali Milad, the pilot, told Libya Channel TV network that initially the hijackers had asked him to head to Rome. He identified the two hijackers as Moussa Shaha and Ahmed Ali, Libyans who other officials said were in their twenties.

One of the hijackers surrendering to the Maltese authorities - Photo Stephen Busuttil

The pilot said the men were seeking political asylum in Europe and wanted to set up a political party called "the New Fateh." Fateh is a reference to former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who led Fateh revolution after his coup in 1969.

Sources told The Malta Independent that the two hijackers are Libyans from the south of the country. The sources said the two hijackers demanded asylum in Malta, but other reports say that they seek the setting up of a pro-Gaddafi political party in Libya.

The two hijackers are from the south of Libya, and are believed to be in their 20s.

It took more than two hours since the plane's landing for the hijackers to agree to the opening of the aircraft door and release the first passengers.

Photo Stephen Busuttil

The plane's door was opened at 1.44pm and women and children were seen disembarking. This was followed by men, and by 2.37pm, a total of 109 passengers had disembarked. The passengers left the aircraft without carrying any hand luggage.

One man, believed to be one of the hijackers, was briefly seen at the top of the stairs leading to the aircraft with the old Libya flag, the all-green flag used by former leader Muamma Gaddafi. He and the second hijacker later disembarked from the plane, a few moments after the crew including the pilot left the aircraft.

They were both taken into custody and are being interrogated. They are expected to be arraigned in court in the coming hours.

The government later said initial forensic investigations about the hijack of the Air Afriqiyah flight shows that the weapons used were identical replica weapons. "Replica" weapons are imitation weapons. Some replica weapons could be used to fire like real weapons, while others do not have this capability. To the layman's eye it is hard to distinguish between a replica weapon that can fire and one which doesn't.

The operation to ensure that the aircraft is safe from explosives or other arms was still ongoing at 7pm.

Passengers are also being held for questioning to establish the way the incident developed. They were all found to be in good health, were given food and water and will be returned to Libya later.

The second hijacker (second from left) leaving the plane with the crew - Photo Stephen Busuttil

Members of the Armed Forces of Malta were seen going onto the plane when the situation was over.

The plane is an Afriqiyah Airways A320 which had 111 passengers on board, including 82 men, 28 women and one infant. T

The Prime Minister, in a tweet, said that women and children were disembarking, and in more tweets later, he said that 65 passengers had left the aircraft. Another tweet said that the remaining 44 passengers had been released, for a total of 109.

The Prime Minister immediately summoned the the National Security Committee at Castille when news of the hijack reached his office.

The negotiating team was on standby at Malta International Airport to hold negotiations with the hijackers, and this later led to the release of the passengers.

Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi led negotiations with the hijackers, The Malta Independent is informed. 

An official from Afriqiyah Airways earlier said the two hijackers had expressed a willingness to release the passengers but that they will keep the pilot. They later however surrendered after releasing all the passengers and crew. Serraj al-Fitouri also told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV that one Libyan lawmaker was among the list of passengers.

In a first official statement issued soon after the plane landed, the government said the Prime Minister is at his office in Castille where the National Security Committee is coordinating the operation.

The Nationalist Party, in a statement, said the Opposition Leader was informed by the Prime Minister about the incident. The PN said it offered its full cooperation.

 

 

Several emergency measures were at Malta International Airport. A spokesperson from the Armed Forces of Malta informed this newsroom that all AFM units, including the C 'Special Duties' company - which is the AFM's counter terrorism unit - was on alert.

 

Soon after the plane landed in Luqa, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca appealed for everyone to remain calm and follow official updates.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna is praying for the safety and security of all those on-board.

All roads leading to the airport were blocked for the duration of the hijack.

The last hijacking in Malta was aboard EgyptAir Flight 648 back in 1985. It was an ordeal that ended in bloodshed. The storming of the EgyptAir plane back then resulted in the deaths of 62 people. Only one of the three hijackers survived and was brought to justice.

 

 

 

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