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EgyptAir Passengers And Crew Released, Hijacker Arrested


The hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 181 this morning is now over. The plane was headed from Alexandria to Cairo but was forced to land in Cyprus. The hijacker claimed to have had explosives on board. But after hours of negotiations, all passengers and crew were released, and the man was arrested. For more, we are joined by NPR's Cairo correspondent, Leila Fadel on the line. Leila, first of all, can you just get us up to speed? Tell us what you know about how events unfolded at the airport there in Cyprus.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Well, as you mentioned, this man who's been identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa forced the plane to land in Cyprus with the threat of explosives. And over the next hour and a half, most of those passengers were allowed to get off the plane. And in the final moments, we saw people walking - another four people - walking off the plane, another person getting out of the cockpit. And finally this man was arrested.

MARTIN: What are authorities saying about his identity and his possible motives?

FADEL: Well, there's not much that we know about him. His name is Seif Eldin Mustafa. Local press in Egypt are saying that he ran a food supply store in Cairo. And his motives were really unclear and constantly changing over the hours that he was on that plane. At first he asked for political asylum. Then he asked for a letter to get his ex-wife who's in Cyprus that he has children with. Then he asked for her to be brought to the airport. And then, reportedly, he asked for female prisoners in Egypt to be released - female political prisoners. And then in the end of all this, it turns out the guy didn't even have any explosives on him at all. It was a fake bomb that was strapped to his chest that wrapped around him.

MARTIN: Do you know if he had any weapon, Leila?

FADEL: Well, the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the spokesperson there, says that there was nothing on him, that that explosive was fake. And according to the Civil Aviation Ministry in Egypt, that was the only thing he had. He didn't have guns. He didn't have knives, nothing like that.

MARTIN: So still unclear as to how he was able to bring that plane to a forced landing. There have been concerns over security in Egyptian airports before this - right? What are officials now saying about how this did happen or could've been prevented in some way?

FADEL: Right. So that hints at how he was able to bring this plane down, right? He said he had a bomb, and the pilot believed him because there's been security problems at Egypt's airports and on planes flying out of Egypt's airports in the past. We saw a Russian passenger plane plane crash late last year that had tourists on it because a bomb brought that plane down. So when somebody says bomb on a flight out of Egypt, people listen. And so right now, the head of the Alexandria airport, as well as other managers at that airport, have been summoned for questioning over how this man was able to walk through security with such questionable material on his person. So that's happening now. And other than that, Egypt's officials have been very tightlipped about motives. And they haven't themselves even acknowledged that there was no bomb on the man yet. They had, earlier, questioned whether he was wearing a real bomb or not.

MARTIN: NPR's Cairo correspondent, Leila Fadel. She has been tracking the story about the hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 181. That plane was forced to land in Cyprus. All passengers were released. And the hijacker has now been arrested. Leila, thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.