Hijackers of Libyan plane surrender at Malta airport after releasing hostages

The hijacking of a Libyan airliner ended peacefully on the tarmac of Malta’s international airport on Friday with the release of all passengers and crew, and two hijackers in custody. 

The plane was on an internal flight in Libya when it was seized and diverted to Malta. 

It remained on the tarmac — the engines still running — as troops surrounded the area and negotiators began talks. 

Some two hours later, around 3:30 p.m. local time, the 111 passengers and seven crew were released. 

The hijackers then surrendered and were taken into custody according to Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who tweeted updates throughout the crisis. 

One of the hijackers said earlier he was “pro-Gadhafi” and threatened to blow up the Airbus A320 unless their demands were met. It was unclear what the demands were. 

Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed in an uprising in 2011, and the country has been racked by factional violence since.

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Maltese troops survey the hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 on the runway at the Malta airport, on Friday. (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters)

The plane had been flying from Sebha in southwest Libya to Tripoli for state-owned Afriqiyah Airways on Friday morning.

The pilot told the control tower at Mitiga airport the plane had been hijacked, according to a senior Libyan security official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. 

“The pilot reported… they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,” the official said.

“The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused.”

All flights in and out of Malta were cancelled. The tiny Mediterranean island nation is about 500 kilometres north of the Libyan coast.

The last major hijacking in Malta was in 1985, when Palestinians took over an Egyptair plane. Egyptian commandos stormed the aircraft, and dozens of people were killed. 

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