A hijacked Libyan plane with 118 people aboard was diverted Friday to the Mediterranean island of Malta, where apparently all passengers were freed as troops flanked the aircraft and officials opened negotiations with the cockpit.
The Times of Malta and other local outlets reported that two hijackers had threatened to blow up the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320, which was on a domestic flight in Libya when it diverted to Malta.
Just over two hours after the plane landed, live video showed passengers disembarking as women and children were permitted to leave. Later, a second wave of passengers that included men was also allowed to depart the plane.
The Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, sent a tweet saying “potentially 2 hijackers and some crew members still on board.”
Many of the passengers appeared relaxed as they came off the plane. A crew member stood at the top of the gangplank, occasionally smiling and laughing.
Earlier footage showed movement in the cockpit as armed troops stood watch on the runway.
In an interview with a Libyan broadcaster, Libya Channel, the flight’s captain said the two hijackers were in their 30s and were asking for asylum and for the establishment of a new party, the al-Fateh al-Jadeed Party. The captain said the men were armed with grenades, and that their names were Ahmed Ali and Mousa Shas.
The Times of Malta had earlier reported that the hijackers claimed to be from a little-known Libyan faction called Fatah al-Gadida.
The hijacking brings another security crisis to the European Union just days after an attack on a Berlin Christmas market killed 12 people. The main suspect in the Berlin attack, a Tunisian, was killed in a shootout with Italian police on Friday.
The state-owned airline flight was bound for Libya’s capital, Tripoli. The plane was originally carrying 111 passengers, including 82 men, 28 women and an infant, said Muscat, the prime minister.
Sabha, the southern Libyan city where the flight began, has been the scene of ongoing clashes between rival tribes.
The Sabha region is also known as a hub for arms smuggling and traffickers taking migrants from Libya and other points in Africa on the more than 400-mile journey to the Mediterranean for clandestine ships bound for Europe.
Malta International Airport delayed outgoing flights and diverted incoming ones.
Malta’s main opposition leader, Simon Busuttil, said in a tweet that he was following the developing situation “with grave concern.”
Malta, a tiny nation of less than half a million people, is a member of the European Union. Malta lies south of Sicily, about 300 miles from the Libyan coast. Libya has been embroiled in civil war since a 2011 uprising that deposed Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Griff Witte