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Everything We Know About the EgyptAir Plane Hijacked and Diverted to Cyprus

The Cairo-Alexandria flight was diverted to Cyprus on Tuesday after a hijacker reportedly told the pilot he was wearing an explosive vest.
L'avion détourné à l'aéroport de Larnaca, Chypre. Photo par Katia Christodoulou/EPA

The suspected hijacker of an EgyptAir airliner surrendered to authorities at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on Tuesday, according to local officials, with all passengers released unharmed. The Egyptian man, whose motives remained a mystery, emerged from the aircraft with his hands in the air, Cypriot state TV said.

"Its over," Cyprus's Foreign Ministry said in a tweet. Cypriot authorities have determined that the belt worn by the man did not contain explosives, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

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"Security in Cyprus confirmed that the explosive belt worn by the man who hijacked the plane was fake," it said.

The EgyptAir flight from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked on Tuesday morning and forced to land in Cyprus.

Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, had been onboard the Airbus 320 flight when it took off, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement.

Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker's motives, with Cypriot officials saying early on the incident did not appear related to terrorism but the Cypriot state broadcaster saying he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt.

After the aircraft landed at Larnaca airport, negotiations began and everyone onboard was freed except three passengers and four crew, Egypt's Civil Aviation Minister Sherif Fethy said.

Soon after his comments, Cypriot television footage showed several people leaving the plane via the stairs and another man climbing out of the cockpit window and running off.

The hijacker then surrendered to authorities.

Flight MS181 took off from Alexandria's Burg el-Arab airport and apparently diverted north shortly afterwards, landing in Larnaca just before 9am, according to local media.

The pilot of the plane was threatened by a passenger who had an explosive belt, Egypt's Civil Aviation Ministry initially said, but it was later reported that there were no explosives on board.

LIVE IMAGE: More passengers released from hijacked — Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng)March 29, 2016

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The head of Alexandria's airport told the BBC that eight Americans, four Britons, two Belgians, one Italian, four Dutch, and 30 Egyptians were on board the flight.

"It is not something which has to do with terrorism," Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades told reporters. It's all to do with a woman… We are doing everything to release the hostages." The hijacker has asked for the release of female prisoners in Egypt, the Cyprus state broadcaster reported.

There was also some confusion over the identity of the hijacker. Egyptian state media agency MENA initially reported the hijacker was an Egyptian national named Ibrahim Samaha, but gave no other details about him.

It was subsequently claimed by staff at Alexandria University — where Samaha is reportedly a professor of veterinary medicine — that he was a passenger on the plane and not the hijacker.

Gamal al-Omrawi, a deputy dean at Alexandria University, said he had spoken by phone to Samaha, who confirmed that he was one of the passengers who was released.

Cyprus' foreign ministry on Tuesday identified the hijacker as Seif Eldin Mustafa in a tweet. It did not provide further details.

Cypriot state media reported that the hijacker had demanded asylum in Cyprus. Another report from a Cypriot newspaper said the man had asked for a four-page letter to be delivered to his ex-wife who lives there. The ex-wife was being taken to the airport, according to a report around 11.45am local time by Al Arabiya.

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Israel scrambled warplanes in its airspace as a precaution in response to the plane hijacking, according to an Israeli military source.

The hijacking raises further questions about Egyptian airport security after militants brought down a Russian passenger flight over the Sinai in October with an explosive device.

Map shows highjacked Egypt Air 181 now landed at Larnaca airport, Cyprus. — John Beck (@JM_Beck)March 29, 2016

Negotiations with the Hijacker result in the release of all the passengers, except the crew and four foreigners.

— EGYPTAIR (@EGYPTAIR)March 29, 2016