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EgyptAir Flight Hijack Suspect Arrested, Passengers Freed

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Egypt-Air-FlightA man claiming to be wearing an explosive vest hijacked an EgyptAir plane on Tuesday, forcing it to land in Larnaca, on the southern coast of Cyprus, before he was arrested, according to the Cypriot government.

“It’s over,” the Cypriot Foreign Ministry announced at 2:41 p.m., after a standoff that lasted more than five hours.

The New York Times reports that most of the 72 people on board were released after the flight was diverted en route to Cairo from Alexandria, but the plane stayed on the tarmac with the hijacker and seven or eight other people still on board.

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They were eventually freed — or escaped, in one case, by leaping from a cockpit window — and, shortly afterward, the hijacker surrendered.

The suspect was identified by Cypriot and Egyptian officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa, an Egyptian who used to live in Cyprus. He had told the pilot that he was wearing a suicide belt and threatened to detonate it.

His motivation was unclear, but the state broadcaster in Cyprus reported that he had given a letter in Arabic demanding the release of female prisoners in Egypt and also called for a meeting with his former wife, who lived in Cyprus.

She visited the airport and helped persuade him to surrender, the broadcaster reported.

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Conflicting reports about the crisis from Egyptian officials — who for a time mistakenly identified another passenger as the hijacker — raised further questions about Egypt’s aviation security, six months after a bomb brought down a Russian airliner in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board.

Apparently anticipating such criticism, Egypt’s Interior Ministry released images from surveillance video that appeared to show the hijacker walking through a metal detector and being searched at the airport before boarding the flight.

The passenger who had been mistakenly identified as the hijacker, Ibrahim Samaha, a professor of veterinary medicine from the University of Alexandria, later called the BBC and described what had unfolded.

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“We had no idea what was going on,” Mr. Samaha said of the flight. “After a while, we realized 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.”

In a statement on its Facebook page, EgyptAir identified the flight as MS181 and said it had left Borg el-Arab Airport in Alexandria at 6:30 a.m. After some confusion about the number of people on board, officials said the plane was carrying 56 passengers; 15 EgyptAir employees, including seven crew members; and a security officer.

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