Malta: Hijackers have surrendered

An Afriqiyah Airways plane from Libya, left, stands on the tarmac at Malta's Luqa International airport, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Malta's state television says two hijackers who diverted a Libyan commercial plane to the Mediterranean island nation have threatened to blow it up. (AP Photo/Jonathan Borg)
An Afriqiyah Airways plane from Libya, left, stands on the tarmac at Malta's Luqa International airport, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Malta's state television says two hijackers who diverted a Libyan commercial plane to the Mediterranean island nation have threatened to blow it up. (AP Photo/Jonathan Borg)

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) – The Latest on the apparent hijacking of a Libyan plane that landed in Malta (all times local):

5:40 p.m. – Libya’s transportation minister is defending airport security in the country after a plane was hijacked and diverted to Malta.

Milad Matouq says security breaches happen everywhere and Libya is no exception. He says this is the first such incident since the 2011 revolution.

He says Maltese authorities are questioning the passengers and doing security checks in case a hijacker is among them.

Passenger Ibrahim Bashir tells Al-Nabaa TV that the passengers are “trapped” inside the buses and not allowed to leave.

The head of Libya’s state-run culture agency says a total of 25 artists, writers, and intellectuals from southern Libya were among the passengers and were heading to Tripoli to participate in a culture forum.

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5:30 p.m. – A Libyan lawmaker says he is not surprised that a plane from the desert oasis city of Sabah was hijacked to Malta, because security measures are “messy” at the Tamanhet airport there.

The Sabha airport was closed after tribal clashes two years ago and its air base was turned into a civilian airport for internal Libyan flights only. A small militia from the city of Misrata in northwestern Libya has been guarding it since 2014.

Salah Qalma, a lawmaker from Sabah, says “it’s very easy for anyone to enter without passing through the electronic gates.” While the airport has an electronic gate at its arrival hall, there are no electronic gates or guards at the adjacent exit gates.

He also said the building has no fence or guards outside it and planes are not separated from the parking lot outside the airport.

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5:20 p.m. – Malta’s prime minister says the two Libyan men who hijacked a plane and diverted it to Malta had a hand grenade and a pistol on them and a second pistol was found on the plane during search by Maltese soldiers.

Joseph Muscat told a news conference Friday that the 111 passengers on the plane will be returned to Libya in the coming hours after they are questioned by police.

He says the hijackers eventually surrendered peacefully without making any conditions after the Maltese government insisted that all passengers had to be released.

He says the hijackers are now being interrogated.

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3:50 p.m. – Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, says the hijacking of a Libyan plane is over after the hijackers gave themselves up.

In a series of tweets, he said the hijackers left the airplane along with its final crew members after earlier freeing all the passengers from a flight that was diverted to his country.

The hijackers, he said, “surrendered,” been “searched and taken in custody.”

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2:55 p.m. – Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says a further 44 passengers have been released from the hijacked Libyan plane that was diverted onto the Mediterranean island nation.

He says in a tweet that there are potentially only the two hijackers and some crew members still on board the plane.

If Muscat’s calculations in a series of tweets are correct, that means a total of 109 passengers have been released from the plane.

Afriqiyah Airways, the operator of the hijacked plane, had earlier said there were 118 people on board, including 111 passengers.

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2:30 p.m. – Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says 65 passengers have left the hijacked Libyan plane.

The doors of the plane opened at 1:44 p.m. local time and a staircase moved to the door before passengers began disembarking.

All those who have been seen leaving the aircraft have been without their hand luggage.

It was unclear how many of those on board would be released by the two reported hijackers on board. In total, Afriqiyah Airways, the operator of the hijacked plane, has said there were 118 people on board, including 111 passengers.

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2:20 p.m. – Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says 25 passengers have left the hijacked Libyan plane and that the release of a second group of 25 is now underway.

The doors of the plane opened at 1:44 p.m. local time and a staircase moved to the door before passengers began disembarking.

It was unclear how many of those on board would be released by the two hijackers on board. In total, there are said to be 118 people on board, including 111 passengers.

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1:55 p.m. – Passengers have begun disembarking from the hijacked Libyan aircraft in Malta.

The doors of the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 opened at 1:44 p.m. local time and a staircase moved to the door before passengers began disembarking.

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1:45 p.m. – The office of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says the premier has spoken to his Libyan counterpart, Fayez Serraj, about the hijacking of a Libyan plane, which landed on the Mediterranean island earlier Friday.

Serraj is leading the so-called Presidency Council and National Unity Government, both brokered by the United Nations as part of peace efforts to heal the country’s rift and end divisions.

Libya has been in a largely lawless state since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011 after 42 years of unchallenged rule in the North African nation.

The Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 flight took off from Tamhent Airport in the Libyan town of Sabha for the capital Tripol. Airport officials say there are 118 passengers on board.

Maltese state television TVM said the two hijackers of the plane had hand grenades and had threatened to explode them.

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1:10 p.m. – The office of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has confirmed that a negotiating team is on standby at Malta International Airport awaiting instructions from the prime minister, who is in a meeting with the National Security Committee.

State television TVM said the two hijackers of the Libyan plane had hand grenades and had threatened to explode them. Airport officials said the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 flight has 118 passengers on board.

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12:50 p.m. – Malta’s state television says two hijackers who diverted a Libyan commercial plane to the Mediterranean island nation have threatened to blow it up.

The Malta airport authority said all emergency teams had been dispatched to the site of what it called an “unlawful interference” on the airport tarmac. The plane’s engines were still running.

State television TVM said the two hijackers on board had hand grenades and had threatened to explode them.

All flights in and out of Malta have been canc0505eled.

Airport officials said the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 flight has 118 passengers on board.

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12:05 p.m. – Malta airport says a Libyan plane has landed at the Mediterranean island and that there appear to be two hijackers on board.

The Malta airport authority said all emergency teams had been dispatched to the site of what it called an “unlawful interference” on the airport tarmac.

Earlier Friday, Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said in a tweet that there was a “potential hijack situation” involving an internal Libyan flight that was diverted to Malta and that emergency operations are underway at the airport.

Airport officials said the Afriqiyah Airways A320 flight has 118 passengers on board.

 

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