Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hijacker of EgyptAir Jet Arrested in Cyprus With Fake Suicide Vest: There were no casualties, but the incident renewed concerns about airport security in Egypt

The hijacker of an EgyptAir plane, which was forced to land in Cyprus, has been taken into custody, according to police. The last of the plane's 63 passengers and crew were seen exiting the aircraft, one via a window.


The Wall Street Journal
By Robert Wall in London, Tamer El-Ghobashy in Cairo and Nektaria Stamouli in Athens
Updated March 29, 2016 5:10 p.m. ET


The hijacker of a domestic EgyptAir flight with 63 passengers and crew aboard surrendered at an airport in Cyprus on Tuesday. No one was harmed, and the authentic-looking suicide vest he was wearing turned out to be fake.

The incident renewed questions about airport security in Egypt, coming just months after a Russian commercial jet was downed after departing Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh airport, apparently by a terrorist bomb.

The hijacker was identified as Seif Al Deen Mostafa, a 59-year-old Egyptian.

He didn’t appear to have links to any terrorist organization, an Egyptian official said. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides described him as in a “fragile mental state.”

Mr. Mostafa commandeered the Airbus A320 airliner after it took off from Alexandria, Egypt, en route to the capital Cairo, and forced the pilot to fly to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Alexandros Zenon, a senior foreign ministry official in Cyprus, said the EgyptAir plane asked for and was given permission to land at the international airport in Larnaca, saying it was low on fuel.

Mr. Mostafa then demanded the release of 63 women imprisoned in Cairo and insisted that a four-page letter be passed to his Cypriot ex-wife, a Cypriot police official said.

Most of the passengers were released soon after negotiations between the hijacker and Cypriot and Egyptian authorities began. Seven people remained on board during six hours of negotiations, including the pilot, co-pilot, a flight attendant, a security officer and three non-Egyptian passengers, said Sherif Fathy, Egypt’s civil aviation minister.

Police took Mr. Mostafa into custody after his surrender and were questioning him. The Cypriot foreign minister said the fake explosives vest Mr. Mostafa wore consisted of mobile-phone covers.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said he had been properly screened and that he fashioned the fake bomb from the ordinary contents of his carry-on bag once he had passed through security at Alexandria's airport.

The ministry posted video and photos on its Facebook page showing him being frisked by a police officer as he passed through security and the scan of his nearly empty carry-on.

It said he had been previously arrested for crimes including forgery, impersonation, burglary and drug dealing. He had been convicted for forgery and sentenced to a year in prison.

He escaped from prison in 2011 during the chaos surrounding the uprising that unseated longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, but was taken back into custody and finished serving his jail sentence in January, it said.

The passengers were flown to Cairo late Tuesday and greeted by the prime minister amid a crush of news media.

Amira Othman was among those waiting at the Cairo airport. She said was watching the standoff unfold on television when she saw her daughter, flight attendant Nihal Barkouqi, among the crew escorting passengers off the jet.

“I saw her face, and it hit me,” she said. “I screamed and kept screaming and couldn’t stop.”

She said she reached her daughter by phone after several hours. “She was the one who kept reassuring me that it is all being taken care of and that it will be fine,” Ms. Othman said.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., plane hijackings have become rarer. Locked and reinforced cockpit doors have made it more difficult for hijackers to enter. Passengers, crew and staff also undergo more screening to prevent them from bringing weapons or dangerous items onboard.

Tuesday’s seizure of the EgyptAir plane comes just months after a Russian commercial jet en route to St. Petersburg was downed after departing Sharm El Sheikh on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board.

Islamic State’s Egyptian affiliate Sinai Province claimed responsibility, saying it had smuggled a bomb on board in retaliation for Russia’s military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi praised the constructive cooperation between Egypt and Cyprus in resolving the crisis.

In February, Mr. Sisi acknowledged that the plane had been brought down by terrorists. The crash decimated Egypt’s tourism industry. Flights from Russia and the U.K., two of Egypt’s biggest sources of tourists, to Sharm El Sheikh remain suspended, contributing to a foreign currency shortage.

Egypt’s aviation ministry in December hired international consultancy Control Risks to audit its airport security in an attempt to rebuild confidence.

Such concerns were heightened in February after a bomb was smuggled onto a Daalloo Airlines plane departing Mogadishu, Somalia. The bomb was detonated in flight, puncturing the fuselage and killing one passenger, though the crew managed to land the plane without further loss of life.

The bombing in the check-in hall of Brussels Airport a week ago has raised questions about how to improve security in the less-secure “landside” of air travel.

—Dahlia Kholaif, Nicolas Parasie and Stelios Bouras contributed to this article.

Original article can be found here:  http://www.wsj.com

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