Hostages held in EgyptAir hijacking as Cyprus president rules out terrorism


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 claimed he had a suicide belt amid reports he 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.

The hijacker has been named by Cypriot government officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa, whose nationality has not been confirmed.

Egypt's civil aviation minister said the hijacker had not issued any "concrete" demands and that it is not yet clear whether the hijacker's claims that he had a suicide vest are true, but they were treating it as a "real threat".

There are conflicting reports over his motive, with some saying the incident is related to his ex-wife and that she is now helping negotiations and others reporting that he is asking for the release of political prisoners in Egypt.

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 them 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.

Almost all on board have been released, 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."

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."

Dr 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.

In London, National Security Adviser Sir Mark Lyall Grant has chaired a meeting of senior officials from across Whitehall to discuss the hijack.

The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said that they were working to establish whether any Britons were involved.

"Our diplomats on the ground are in touch with the Cypriot authorities," the spokeswoman said.

"There is obviously speculation out there about numbers. At this stage we are working to establish what the facts actually are."