A passenger claiming to be wearing a suicide bomb belt seized control of an EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo and ordered it flown to Cyprus Tuesday morning.
The Airbus A320 landed at the airport in Larnaka, on the southern coast of the Mediterranean island, at approximately 8:45 a.m. local time (1:45 a.m. ET).
Hours after the plane landed, all but four of the plane’s passengers, as well as the cabin crew, had been allowed to leave the aircraft, according to EgyptAir. The airline described the four passengers still on the plane as foreigners, but did not give their nationality.
Egyptian state television identified the hijacker as Ibrahim Samaha, a professor of veterinary medicine at Alexandria University. It was not immediately clear what his motive may have been.
Egyptian government spokesman Hossam al-Queish told the private CBC TV network that Samaha initially wanted the plane flown to Istanbul, Turkey, but was told by the captain that he did not have enough fuel for the journey.
There were conflicting reports on the number of passengers and crew on the plane. An initial statement from Egypt’s aviation authority said there were 81 passengers on board and five crew members on board.
A revised statement reported by state media in Cyprus said that there were 55 passengers and seven crew members on board.
A Cypriot official told the Associated Press that 56 passengers had left the aircraft after the hijacker released them.
— חדשות 10 (@news10) March 29, 2016
The director of the Alexandria airport, Hossni Hassan, told the Associated Press there were 26 foreigners on board, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, a French national, an Italian, two Greeks and one Syrian. He said three other foreigners could not be identified.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 29, 2016
Sky News reported that the short-haul Flight 181 took off from Alexandria at 8 a.m. Cyprus time.
The hijacker contacted the control tower in Lanarka 30 minutes later and was given permission to land.
Ian Petchenik, a spokesman for flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, told the Associated Press that the flight showed no signs of distress on its route to Cyprus.
“It looks like a completely controlled flight aside from the fact it was hijacked,” Petchenik said.
Reuters, citing an Israeli military source, reported that Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the hijacking.
The hijacking will most likely bring to the fore again the question of security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula minutes after it took off from Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
All 224 people on board were killed in the crash. Russia later said an explosive device brought down the aircraft and the extremist Islamic State group (ISIS) said it downed the plane.