The hijacking of a Libyan airliner to the Mediterranean island of Malta ended without bloodshed on Friday, after the jet’s passengers and crew were released unharmed and the hijackers surrendered to authorities. In messages on his official Twitter account, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said all 111 passengers and eight crew of the Airbus A320 had been released and the two Libyan hijackers had been taken into custody.
A Maltese government spokesman said the hijackers’ motives were unclear. Ashraf Tulty, spokesman for the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, said, however, the hijackers, who had threatened to blow up the plane with grenades, were seeking political asylum in Europe.
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Update: Passengers walked down the steps from a hijacked plane at Malta International Airport on Friday, and Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted that a first group of 25 had been freed and the release of another 25 was under way. Reuters reports that buses were driven onto the tarmac to carry passengers away, and more releases were expected, with more than 100 passengers and crew reported to have been on board. Television footage showed no signs of struggle or alarm.
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Up to two hijackers, described as being “pro-Gaddafi,” have seized control of Afriqiyah Airways flight 8U209 in Libya, forcing the Airbus A320 plane to land in Malta. The suspected hijackers of the airliner with 111 passengers aboard have threatened to blow up the plane on the runway at the international airport in Malta, the WSJ reports.
The airliner, a Airbus A320, landed at Malta’s Luqa airport at 1030 GMT, according to Flightradar24.
The plane, an Afriqiyah Airways flight to Tripoli from Sabha, was diverted by a passenger who demanded to be flown to the Mediterranean. In a statement, Malta airport authorities confirmed that there has been “an unlawful interference” at the airport and that emergency teams have been dispatched to the site.
"The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,” a security official from Mitiga airport in Libya told Reuters. “The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused."
There are conflicting reports as to how many hijackers are on board the flight, with some media outlets indicating two while the Times of Malta report there is only one suspect involved. Described as being “pro-Gaddafi,” the hijacker is reportedly in possession of a hand grenade and has threatened to blow up the plane if demands are not met, although the nature of these demands are not yet known. It’s reported that Libyan and Maltese authorities are in negotiations with the hijackers.
All Libyan carriers are banned from flying to the European Union under the bloc’s so-called aviation safety blacklist. The EU took the step two years ago because of concern that political turmoil in the country meant safety oversight by Libyan aviation officials couldn’t be assured.
Afriqiyah Airways has been the victim of Libya’s political unrest before. In 2014 attacks by militias on Tripoli Airport destroyed and damaged several of its planes. Four years earlier some of its planes were similar destroyed at Tripoli’s airport in fighting. The airline has a fleet of six active planes, all made by European plane maker Airbus.
Malta’s President Marie-Louise Coleiro tweeted to appeal “for everyone to remain calm and follow official updates.”