The hijackers of a Libyan jet have been arrested following a stand-off at Malta International Airport. According to reports, the two hijackers were in their mid-20s and were from the Tebu, an ethnic group present in southern Libya where the plane departed. It remained unclear what their demands were.
A Libyan aircraft has been hijacked with 118 people on board and diverted to Malta. Malta is about 500km north of the Libyan coast.
According to local reports, at least one man claimed to have hand grenades and threatened to blow up the aircraft unless their demands were met.
Journalist Tim Diacono from Malta Today said that the hijackers had grenades and “threatened to blow the plane up”.
“All 109 passengers had been released by Friday evening, which would leave only two passengers, possibly the hijackers themselves,” said the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Seven crew members were also on board the flight.
Prime Minister Muscat also tweeted the passengers on board the plane included 82 men, 28 women and one infant.
Al-Jazeera reported that one of the hijackers told the flight crew of the Afriqiyah Airways plane that he was “pro-Gaddafi”. Security personnel stood a few hundred meters from the plane as it sat on the tarmac on Friday.
One of the hijackers has appeared at the exit door of the plane waving a large green flag – similar to the old Libyan flag under Gaddafi’s rule, according to Malta-based journalist Karl Stagno-Navarra. Then he put the flag down and returned inside after few minutes.
Stagno-Navarra said, “This is not an issue of international terrorism, this is an issue of internal feud that is still ongoing in Libya.”
He added,”It looks like the situation is quite tranquil and under control even though the aircraft is surrounded by the local security forces.”
An unnamed official at the Libyan foreign ministry told the state news agency LANA that all passengers aboard the plane were in good health.
The prime minister’s office said that a negotiating team was at Malta International Airport.
The aircraft had been flying from Sebha in southwest Libya to Tripoli for state-owned Afriqiyah Airways, a route that would usually take about two hours.
An airline official saidAfriqiyah Airways plane was diverted towards Malta, but turned back as far as Libyan airspace before changing course again and flying to the Mediterranean island.
“According to radar information the plane was going to Malta, then it flew back as far as Tripoli airspace, then it turned back towards Malta again,” said Farouk al-Wifati, the head of the Afriqiyah Airways office in Tripoli’s Mitiga airport, where the flight was due to land.
A senior security official at the airport said that the pilot of the Afriqiyah Airways plane told the control tower the aircraft had been hijacked.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him.” He added, “The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused.”
Since the Libyan Revolution that overthrew the long-time dictator 2011 Muammar Gaddafi, violence has spread in Libya among the different Libyan factions.
Two rival governments operate in Libya, with self-proclaimed authorities controlling the capital of Tripoli and adjacent western areas and an internationally recognized government, based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk.
Moreover, a third government was formed known as the Government of National Accord(GNA) supported by many western countries. The government has so far failed to restore the country’s unity.
None of the governments has a complete dominance over Libya until now.