After an hours-long standoff, the hostage situation on the hijacked EgyptAir plane ended with the hijacker arrested and all onboard safe. Flight MS181 was en route from Alexandria to Cairo with 55 passengers when it was diverted to Cyprus early Tuesday morning after the hijacker claimed to be wearing a suicide belt. After landing, preliminary negotiations resulted in the release of all passengers but three, all of whom were understood to be foreigners. Also onboard were the pilot, co-pilot, a female crew member, and a security officer.
Those individuals are now safely off the Airbus 320. TV news video from the scene shows the remaining passengers and crew fleeing the plane in two groups at about 2:30 p.m. local time. At least one person also climbed out of the cockpit window to flee for safety. The hijacker could be seen walking down the steps with his hands raised.
Cypriot Secretary of the Foreign Ministry Alexandros Zenon confirmed that the hijacker was arrested and said the situation was "over." More details from Cypriot officials were not immediately available, but earlier, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades ruled out terrorism. He said that the hijacking was "not something which has to do with terrorism," adding, "It’s all to do with a woman."
The identity of the hijacker was confirmed by Egyptian officials as Seif El Din Mustafa. His motives remain unknown. Anastasiades' earlier comments implied that the hijacking may have had to do with Mustafa's ex-wife, a Cypriot national. He allegedly wanted to deliver a letter to her, and asked for her to come to the airport.
Other reports claim that he was seeking the release of female prisoners in Egypt. Cypriot officials also called him "psychologically unstable," while Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said that his requests ranged from seeing a European Union representative to being moved to another airport. Egyptian officials said earlier in the day that Mustafa wanted to be flown to Istanbul, but that the pilot had informed him there was not enough fuel. "He kept on changing his mind and asking for different things," another official said.
An earlier report from Egyptian state media incorrectly named the hijacker as Ibrahim Samaha. He's a veterinary medicine professor at Alexandria University, and he called the BBC to state his innocence. He was already off the plane when his name was released in the media. His wife also called Egyptian television to explain that her husband had never been to Cyprus and was connecting in Cairo on his way to the United States to attend a conference.
Whether or not Mustafa had an explosive belt — and it increasingly appears he did not — the incident raises concerns around Egyptian airport security. Tuesday's incident comes just five months after the downing of a Russian jet over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. All 224 people onboard were killed, and ISIS claimed responsibility. Since the attack, airport security was supposed to be stepped up, but this new hijacking has renewed doubts. How it will affect Egypt's extremely important (and fragile) tourism industry remains to be seen.