A hijacker forced an EgyptAir plane to land in Cyprus—so he could reunite with his ex-wife

EgyptAir’s flight MS181 after landing in Larnaca, Cyprus.
EgyptAir’s flight MS181 after landing in Larnaca, Cyprus.
Image: Reuters/Yiannis Kourtoglou
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This post was last updated on March 29th at 2:10pm local time in Cairo

The hostage situation aboard an EgyptAir flight hijacked earlier today (Mar. 29) and diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus is over. Cypriot authorities say the hijacker, identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, has been arrested. EgyptAir has confirmed the release of all hostages. Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiades had earlier ruled out terrorism as a motive.

EgyptAir’s flight MS181 was scheduled to fly from Alexandria to Egypt’s capital city of Cairo  but was taken over after a passenger told the pilot he was strapped with explosives, according to the Egyptian civil aviation ministry.

Egyptian officials originally named a dual US-Egyptian citizen Ibrahim Samaha as the hijacker but later said they were mistaken.

Samaha told BBC that he had been a passenger on the plane. “We did not know what was going on. We got aboard the plane and we were surprised that the crew took all our passports, which is unusual for a domestic flight. After a while we realised that the altitude is getting higher. Then we knew we were heading to Cyprus. At first the crew told us there was a problem with the plane, and only later we knew it was hijacked.”

Speaking to reporters, Cypriot president Nikos Anastasiades said that the hijacker diverted the plane in hopes of reuniting with his ex-wife who lives in Cyprus. “It’s all to do with a woman,” he said. “We are doing everything to release the hostages.”

Furthering these claims, officials with the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs reportedly told the Guardian, “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.” The hijacker did not make any known demands according to Sherif Fathy, Egypt’s civil aviation minister. “No clear demands by the hijacker were given,” Fathy said at a news conference in Cairo.

EgyptAir has confirmed on its website that there were “56 passengers onboard in addition to 7 crew members and one security member.” The head of Borg El Arab airport, where the plane took off, told the BBC that the plane was carrying 30 Egyptians, eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch nationals, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. Three other foreigners are yet to be identified.

This is the second major incident in Egyptian aviation in less than a year. Last October, a Russian plane crashed minutes after it took off from the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, killing 217 passengers and seven crew members. Islamic State-affiliated militants claimed responsibility for the crash, but official investigations are yet to publish findings.