Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hijacking of Libyan Airliner to Malta Ends Without Bloodshed: The two Libyan hijackers taken into custody were seeking political asylum in Europe



The Wall Street Journal
By JASON DOUGLAS,  HASSAN MORAJEA and  ROBERT WALL
Updated Dec. 23, 2016 11:25 a.m. ET


The hijacking of a Libyan airliner and diversion to the Mediterranean island of Malta ended without bloodshed on Friday, after the jet’s passengers and crew were released unharmed and the hijackers surrendered to authorities.

All 111 passengers and six crew members on the Airbus A320 were released and the two Libyan hijackers had been taken into custody, according to message on Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s official Twitter account.

A Maltese government spokesman said the hijackers’ motives were unclear. Ashraf Tulty, spokesman for the United Nations-backed government in Tripoli, said the hijackers, who had threatened to blow up the plane with grenades, were seeking political asylum in Europe.

At a press conference broadcast on Facebook later Friday, Mr. Muscat said the two hijackers were found to be in possession of a hand grenade and a pistol. A second pistol was later recovered when Maltese authorities searched the aircraft.

The airliner, operated by Afriqiyah Airways, was flying from the central Libyan city of Sabha to the capital Tripoli when the hijackers demanded that the plane fly to Malta, where it landed at 11:30 a.m. local time.

All Libyan carriers are banned from flying to the European Union under the bloc’s so-called aviation safety blacklist. The EU took the step two years ago out of concern that Libyan aviation officials couldn’t ensure safety because of the country’s political turmoil.

Afriqiyah Airways has been the victim of Libya’s political unrest before. In 2014, attacks by militias on Tripoli Airport destroyed and damaged several of its planes. The airline has a fleet of six active planes, all made by European plane maker Airbus.

Friday’s hijacking comes amid a tumultuous year for aviation security that has seen bombings of jetliners and airports and other aircraft hijackings.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., plane hijackings have become rarer. Locked and reinforced cockpit doors have made it more difficult for hijackers to enter. But hijackers have still managed to force planes to alter course.

In March, an EgyptAir flight with 63 passengers and crew aboard was hijacked on a domestic flight and forced to divert to Cyprus. The hijacker was carrying an authentic-looking suicide vest that turned out to be fake.

The hijacking occurred just days after Brussels Airport was struck by suicide bombers. The March 22 bombing, along with a parallel attack on the Belgian capital’s subway, killed 32 people.

In June, attackers hit Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport, killing 45 people.

EgyptAir Flight 804, an Airbus Group SE A320, disappeared from radar on May 19 while flying at 37,000 feet. The plane, bound to Cairo from Paris and carrying 66 passengers and crew, had just entered Egyptian airspace when it plunged into the Mediterranean Sea.

Egyptian officials said earlier this month that explosive residue was found on the bodies of some of the victims.

Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an explosion on Feb. 2 aboard a plane operated by Djibouti-based Daallo Airlines in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Only one person, the suspected bomber, died in the attack shortly after takeoff. The crew managed to land the plane after its fuselage was punctured by the blast.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.wsj.com

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