UPDATE: 8:04 a.m. EDT — The man identified as a hijacker of an EgyptAir flight has been arrested and taken into custody as the hour-slong episode appears to have ended peacefully, reported CNBC. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cyprus, where the plane was forced to land by the alleged hijacker, tweeted simply that "Its over."
Moments prior to the arrest, a person seemed to make a daring escape by exiting a cockpit window and scaling down the side of the plane to the tarmac, where he ran away. It was immediately unclear who that person was.
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) March 29, 2016
According to CNBC, the alleged hijacker left the plane with his hand raised.
UPDATE: 6:44 a.m. EDT — EgyptAir said on its website that there were 56 passengers, seven crew members and one “security member” on flight MS181, correcting its earlier estimate of 81 passengers being on board. Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said, according to BBC, that the foreign passengers included eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch nationals, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian while three other foreigners were yet to be identified.
Earlier reports also said that all the passengers had been freed from the plane, but Egypt's civil aviation minister, Sherif Fathy, said at a news conference that seven people remained on board, including three passengers and four crew members. However, EgyptAir said on Twitter that three passengers and five crew members were still on board.
Fathy did not announce the identity of the hijacker, but the Cypriot foreign affairs ministry confirmed the hijacker’s name.
— Cyprus MFA (@CyprusMFA) March 29, 2016
Meanwhile, the BBC report added, citing Cypriot media, that the hijacker is believed to be a soldier opposed to Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and is demanding the release of some unspecified female prisoners. However, the report has not yet been confirmed.
The Larnaca airport has been involved in several hijack instances before the Tuesday’s incident.
In 1977, a Lufthansa Flight on way from Palma de Mallorca in Spain to Frankfurt in Germany with 91 people on board was hijacked by four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The plane landed in airports in Rome, Larnaca, Bahrain and Dubai. The plane was then forced to fly on to Mogadishu, Somalia, where a German anti-terror squad killed three hijackers, arrested one and rescued all passengers.
In 1978, the airport also witnessed an hour-long gun-battle between Unit 777, an Egyptian military counter-terrorism force that raided the airport, and the Cypriot National Guard. The Egyptians were trying to secure the release of 15 hostages who were in Cyprus to attend an Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization conference but had been taken hostage by two gunmen opposed to the Egyptian regime at the time. The Egyptian Unit 777 launched an assault without the knowledge or consent of the Cypriots, leading to a confrontation with Cypriot forces.
In 1988, Kuwait Airways Flight 422 was hijacked while it was travelling from Thailand to Kuwait. The plane landed in Larnaca for refueling after taking off from Iran on way to Algeria. Two Kuwaiti hostages were murdered and their bodies thrown on the runway, and the incident finally ended in Algeria 15 days after it started.
UPDATE: 6:14 a.m. EDT — The motive for the hijack of EgyptAir Flight MS181 seems to have changed as the Cyprus state broadcaster reported that the hijacker asked for the release of female prisoners in Egypt, Reuters reported.
Earlier reports had said that the hijacker was wearing an explosive belt but Egyptian officials have not confirmed this yet.
UPDATE: 5:48 a.m. EDT — A report by CNN cited a presidential spokesman to say that the correct name of the hijacker of EgyptAir’s MS181 is Seif El Din Mustafa, an Egyptian national. The correction in the name comes as earlier reports had identified the hijacker as Ibrahim Samah, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria University in Egypt.
However, Samah told BBC Arabic that he was not the hijacker but was just 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 realized 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,” BBC reported.
UPDATE: 5:16 a.m. EDT — Agence France-Presse (AFP) cited the Egypt's aviation minister in a tweet saying that four crew members and three passengers were still on the plane.
An earlier report by BBC said that all hostages on board EgyptAir Flight MS181 had been freed and that the hijacker is now alone on the plane. The BBC report came AFP reported that five people wearing uniforms were seen disembarking the plane.
Meanwhile, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, speaking earlier at a joint news conference with the visiting president of the European Parliament Martin Schultz, said that Cyprus government had done everything it could to release the hostages.
A report by the Associated Press also said, citing Egyptian government spokesman Hossam al-Queish, confirmed the hijacker as Ibrahijm Samah, but could not confirm if he possessed explosives. Earlier reports had said that Samah had an explosive belt.
UPDATE: 4:49 a.m. EDT — A Guardian correspondent said in a tweet citing Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades that the hijacking had nothing to do with terrorism. The Guardian correspondent added that the hijacker’s ex-wife, Marina Parashkou, was being taken to the Larnaca International Airport to participate in negotiations.
#cyprus pres nikos anastasiades confirms tt terrorism not behind hijacking but love-sick romeo. "it's 2 do w a woman!"
— Helena Smith (@HelenaSmithGDN) March 29, 2016
#Egyptair hijacking: it was all done "for the eyes" of one Marina Paraskou, Lebanese hijacker's ex wife : can she talk him out of it now?
— Helena Smith (@HelenaSmithGDN) March 29, 2016
Meanwhile, a report by the Guardian also cited a response to the hijacking by Egypt’s foreign ministry officials, who said: “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.”
The Guardian report also added that the man was a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria University.
UPDATE: 4:31 a.m. EDT — A report by Reuters, citing Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation (CYBC), said the hijacker, who was identified by several media outlets as Ibrahim Samaha, may have had personal motives to hijack the EgyptAir Flight MS181 as his ex-wife was in Cyprus. The report by Reuters added, citing witnesses, that he threw a letter written in Arabic on the apron of the airport and asked that it be delivered to his former wife.
Passengers on the plane had included eight Britons and 10 Americans, Reuters reported citing security officials.
Meanwhile, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said, according to Reuters: “It looks like at least 49 of the passengers have been freed. That is all I have to say.”
UPDATE: 3:50 a.m. EDT — Cypriot state-run news network identified the hijacker of the EgyptAir Flight MS181 as Ibrahim Samaha, Al Arabiya reported. Meanwhile, Sky News tweeted, citing the news network, that Samaha is 27 years old and that he was asking for a translator and political asylum.
Larnaca International Airport has been closed after the hijacked plane landed there, and other flights will be diverted to Paphos, a city on Cyprus' southwestern coast, Sky News reported.
UPDATE: 3:20 a.m. EDT — EgyptAir said in a tweet Tuesday that negotiations with the hijacker has led to an agreement to release all the passengers on board, except four foreign nationals and the crew members.
Negotiations with the kidnapped result in the release of all the passengers, except the crew and four foreigners.
— EGYPTAIR (@EGYPTAIR) March 29, 2016
An earlier report by the Associated Press had said, citing Egyptian and Cypriot officials, that some of the women and children were allowed to leave the plane. The report by AP added that the motive of the hijacker was not clear while there was also confusion on whether it was one hijacker or more.
UPDATE: 2:54 a.m. EDT — EgyptAir confirmed that its flight MS181 has been hijacked and published a series of tweets in the local language describing the situation. The company said that the Airbus 320 plane was carrying 81 passengers and that officials were currently negotiating with the hijackers.
The company added that a passenger on board was believed to be in possession of an explosive belt and had forced the pilot to divert the flight to Cyprus airport.
An EgyptAir domestic flight 181 originating from the Egyptian Mediterranean port city of Alexandria to the capital city of Cairo has been hijacked, the airline’s spokeswoman said, according to Bloomberg. She added that the hijackers forced the plane to land in Cyprus' Larnaca International Airport.
Our flight MS181 is officially hijacked. we'll publish an official statement now. #Egyptair
— EGYPTAIR (@EGYPTAIR) March 29, 2016
The former European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism & Youth for Cyprus, Androulla Vassiliou also tweeted about the hijack and said that 82 people were on board the plane.
A tweet by the Associated Press said, citing a Cyprus official, that there was suspicions of a bomb on board while a report by Reuters said that the plane was an Airbus 320.
Hijacked aircraft of Egypt Air with 82 passengers landed at Larnaca airport......we are anxious to learn more.
— Androulla Vassiliou (@VassiliouEU) March 29, 2016