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EgyptAir Flight 181 hijacking: What we know

Passengers leave the hijacked plane on Cyprus.
AP Photo/Petros Karadjias

EgyptAir Flight 181, with 63 passengers and crew aboard, landed in Cyprus after a man claiming to wear an explosive vest hijacked the plane and demanded it be redirected. The flight was en route from the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria to Cairo.

The hijacker, identified by Cyprus’s state media as Seif Eldin Mustafa, was arrested at around 7:45 am US Eastern time, according to Cyprus’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"It's over," the ministry said in a tweet:

All of the flight’s passengers have safely left the plane following negotiations with the hijacker at the airport in Larnaca. For several hours after the plane landed, seven people were still on board the plane, including the pilot, co-pilot, a flight attendant, a security officer, and three non-Egyptian passengers, according to Egypt’s civil aviation minister.

The hijacking appeared not to be an act of terrorism, but rather motivated by a personal grievance against the man’s ex-wife, who is living in the country.

"There were no real, tangible demands by the hijacker," said Sherif Fathy, Egypt’s civil aviation minister.

What we know

  • The hijacker has been identified by Egyptian and Cypriot officials as Seif Eldin Mustafa, a man in his early 50s, according to NBC.
  • CNN, citing Cyprus's Ministry of Transport, said the man had a personal motivation and that he wanted to get a letter to his ex-wife.
  • But other media reports, according to the New York Times, claim the man gave negotiators a letter demanding the release of prisoners from Egyptian jails, suggesting a possible political motivation for the hijacking. However, Mustafa's demands appeared to shift after several hours when he began requesting asylum in Cyprus. Cypriot officials described his personality as unstable, according to multiple media outlets.
  • EgyptAir said the flight left Borg el-Arab airport in Alexandria, bound for Cairo. It was carrying 56 passengers, seven crew members, and one EgyptAir security officer. (The airline had said earlier that there had been 81 people on the plane.)
  • Egypt's civil aviation authority, citing Cypriot officials, said the explosives belt turned out to be fake, according to NBC.
  • The passenger list included eight Americans, according to the Egyptian Civil Aviation Ministry, NBC reported.

What we don’t know

  • What, exactly, motivated the hijacker to demand the plane land in either Cyprus or Turkey.
  • Whether the hijacker was connected to any known network or whether he was truly acting alone.
  • What precisely transpired during the hijacking.
  • Whether Egyptian airspace security has serious vulnerabilities. A Russian airliner crashed and killed 224 people on the Sinai Peninsula in October.