A man who claimed to have an explosive vest had been holding seven people hostage aboard an EgyptAir plane after forcing it to divert to the Mediterranean island during a domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo.
The airline said the plane, flight number MS181, was carrying 56 passengers, including 26 foreigners, and seven crew, as well as a security officer. Minutes before the alleged hijacker was arrested a number of people were seen leaving the plane, walking down the stairs, with one climbing out of a cockpit window, before being led away by security officers.
Announcing the end of the hostage situation, the Cyprus Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Twitter: “It’s over. The hijacker arrested.”
Four people were seen leaving the hijacked EgyptAir plane around 12.30pm. One man climbed out the cockpit window and three more people, dressed in uniform, ran down the plane’s steps.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister said the hijacker had not issued any "concrete” demands and that it was not clear whether the hijacker’s claims that he had a suicide vest were true.
There are also conflicting reports over his motive, with some saying the incident is related to his ex-wife and others reporting that he asked for the release of political prisoners in Egypt.
Among the passengers were 26 foreigners, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a French national, two Greeks and one Syrian, the director of the Alexandria airport said. Negotiations led to the release of almost all of those on board soon after the plane arrived in Cyprus, with footage showing many looking calm as they walked down stairs from the plane with their luggage to waiting buses.
The man’s motivation is unclear, but Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking was nothing to do with terrorism, while a Cyprus government official said the man "seems (to be) in love".
Citing security sources, Cypriot state media said that the motives of the hijacker appeared personal and he had asked to contact his ex-wife, who lives in Cyprus. "It is not something which has to do with terrorism." Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters.
Asked if a woman was involved he said, "there is always a woman involved."