Egypt plane hijacker 'trying to contact estranged wife'


The hijacking of an Egyptian plane that was diverted to Cyprus is not related to terrorism, the island's president confirmed, as it emerged a man on board claiming he had a suicide belt was trying to contact his estranged wife.

Seven people, including three passengers, are being held hostage aboard the EgyptAir plane after it diverted to Larnaca airport on the Mediterranean island during a domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo.

A number of Britons and an Irish national are thought to have been aboard, though it is not known if they are among those still being held.

Egypt's civil aviation minister said the hijacker had not issued any "concrete" demands, but the incident is thought to be related to his ex-wife who is now reportedly at the airport helping authorities.

He added that it was not yet clear whether the hijacker's claims that he had a suicide vest were true.

The man was initially named by Egyptian authorities as university professor Dr Ibrahim Samaha, but a passenger by that name denied any responsibility for the incident.

The airline said the plane, flight number MS181, was carrying 56 passengers and seven crew, as well as a security officer.

Among the passengers were 26 foreigners, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a French national, two Greeks and one Syrian, the director of the Alexandria airport said.

Negotiations led to the release of almost all of those on board, with footage showing many looking calm as they walked down stairs from the plane with their luggage to waiting buses.

Egypt's civil aviation minister told reporters: "There are seven people still inside the plane. The captain and his aide, one woman stewardess, one security officer and three passengers. I can't give you any more than this. I can't talk about the nationalities at this stage.

"We don't know yet how he got through the equipment he has and we do not know whether the equipment is real or not. And this would come as an outcome of the investigation."

He added authorities were "not sure whether what he has is a true bomb" but were treating it as "a real threat".

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking is "not something which has to do with terrorism" and that the government is doing its utmost to ensure the remaining passengers are safely released.

He added: "It's all to do with a woman. We are doing everything to release the hostages."

According to The Guardian, an official at Egypt's ministry of foreign affairs said: "He's not a terrorist, he's an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren't stupid. This guy is."

A veterinarian, Ibrahim Samaha, who was earlier named by Egyptian authorities as the hijacker, has denied involvement.

According to the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, he said: "I was not the hijacker, I was simply a passenger on that plane and I was released alongside other passengers and had absolutely nothing to do with hijacking the plane.

"We did not know what was going on. We got on board 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 the altitude was 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 did we know it was hijacked."

An Egyptian woman said her husband, named Ibrahim Samaha, is not the hijacker and was on his way to Cairo en route to the United States to attend a conference.