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Hijackers arrested as drama ends peacefully

December 23, 2016 3:14 pm

The hijacking of a Libyan plane has ended peacefully after the men who seized control surrendered in Malta.

The domestic flight with 118 people on board was hijacked after taking off from Sabha, bound for the Libyan capital Tripoli.

Instead, the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 was diverted to Malta International Airport.

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It appears the two hijackers are supporters of Libya’s late deposed leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Pictures of them kneeling on the tarmac with their hands up appear to show the moment they were arrested by the Maltese authorities.

All the passengers – including one infant – and a number of the crew had already been released.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat initially said that the men had been armed with pistols and a grenade – but later tweeted that the weapons appeared to be replicas.

Mr Muscat said neither of the men, believed to be of Libyan nationality, had made any demands.

He told a press conference: "The two hijackers have been detained in custody and interrogations are ongoing. The rest of the crew and passengers are also being questioned to ascertain events.

“Once this interrogation process is completed over the next few hours arrangements will be made to send the passengers and the crew members back to Libya with another Afriqiyah aircraft.”

Shortly before the incident drew to an end, one man emerged from the plane briefly and stood on the plane steps waving a green, Gaddafi-era flag – adding support to earlier suggestions they were loyalists to the former leader, killed in 2011.

Taher Siala, the foreign minister of Libya’s internationally backed Government of National Accord, said the hijackers wanted to set up a pro-Gaddafi political party.

Airport security in Libya: Rana Jawad, BBC North Africa correspondent, Tunis

Airport security in Libya is as lax and chaotic as the country’s’ politics. Various armed groups who do not have any particular allegiance to any Libyan administration control them all.

Over the years there have been several incidents that passengers have become accustomed to, which often go unreported. This includes planes being delayed because rival armed groups drive up the runway, or even temporarily board them if they have a particular demand or a personal axe to grind.

The capital’s main airport was burned down during the 2014 rival militia clashes to control it.

Libyans already have trouble flying out of their own country, and cannot travel direct to any European country. European airspace has been closed to all flights from Libya for over two years. The latest incident will undoubtedly dash any hopes that a change in that reality will take place any time soon.

One of the hijackers told a Libyan television station: “We took this measure to declare and promote our new party.”

Initial information had suggested the hijackers were trying to claim political asylum in Malta, the mayor of Sabha, Colonel Hamed al-Khayali, told the BBC.

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