A man falsely claiming he was armed with explosives hijacked an EgyptAir plane carrying more than 50 passengers and forced it to land in Cyprus, casting new doubts on Egypt’s ability to revive desperately needed tourism.
All passengers and crew members aboard the flight survived the seven-hour ordeal on Tuesday unharmed, Cypriot authorities said. The hijacker, an Egyptian national, released most of them before surrendering to authorities at the airport in Larnaca.
“It’s over,” the Foreign Ministry said on its Twitter account. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the hijacker wore a belt with telephone covers that looked like explosive devices but wasn’t carrying actual explosives. President Nicos Anastasiades ruled out terrorism as a motive.
Cyprus’s Rik TV said the hijacker had asked that a letter be delivered to his ex-wife, who lives in Cyprus. She was taken to the airport to speak with him, Kasoulides said.
The hijacking dealt a new blow to Egypt’s efforts to project an image of stability to tourists and investors five months after a Russian passenger crashed in the Sinai peninsula in a suspected bombing claimed by Islamic State. Militant attacks have surged since 2013, though most have been centered in north Sinai.
“Even if recent developments confirm that this is not a terrorist attack, but rather an asylum-seeker who wants to join his ex-wife, this raises further concerns about security” at Egyptian airports, Kinda Chebib, lead analyst at Euromonitor International, said in e-mailed comments.
Egyptian authorities hired consultancy Control Risks Group to review airport security after the downing of the Russian plane.
The hijacker reportedly asked for a translator and sought political asylum shortly before giving himself up. Kasoulides said the man requested fuel to fly to Turkey and that he asked to speak to a European Union representative.
Egypt’s economy has struggled since the 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. The pound has slumped in the black market and capital outflows have left businesses starved of dollars to import raw materials. A slight recovery in its crucial tourism industry was cut short by the Russian plane crash.
EgyptAir, one of the oldest airlines in the Middle East and a member of Star Alliance, has incurred cumulative losses of about $1 billion since the Egyptian revolution began in 2011. The carrier has a fleet of about 80 aircraft with a target to expand to 125 planes.