Seifedeen Mustafa hijacked an EgyptAir domestic flight traveling between Alexandria and Cairo on Tuesday, but, to the credit of the crew and civil aviation authorities, he has been successfully detained and all 55 passengers and the airline crew were released.
Having claimed to be wearing an explosive belt, Mustafa forced the jet pilot, Omar al-Gammal, informed authorities he was threatened by the passenger to land the Airbus A320 in Cyprus, 377 miles from its destination in Cairo, at Larnaca International Airport. The hijacking lasted for six hours after the Airbus A320 aircraft landed on the island, while flights were suspended from leaving or landing at Larnaca. On landing, the hijacker released everyone on board except for four crew members and three passengers. He later surrendered, allowing the hostages to leave the plane and emerging himself with his hands in the air. One man exited via the cockpit window, sliding down the A320 to the ground. Cypriot authorities announced that, “it’s over”, via Twitter following the stand-off.
While Mustafa’s motives were not terrorist related, they allegedly centered on his demand to release female prisoners in Egypt, and it was suggested the hijacker had demanded to speak to his ex-wife, with whom he has four children and is currently living in Cyprus, according to Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry.
Egyptian authorities had earlier halted a flight destined for New York from taking off in the capital city, following suspected hijacking risks. This incident will be a disappointment to the Egyptian tourist industry, which has already suffered following an aircraft being brought down by a bomb after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport. As Egypt tried to convince foreign passengers that its airports are safe, this attack, later claimed by Isis, added to the latest hijacking, will do nothing to help the faltering tourist industry. Russia removed all flight schedules connecting the country with Egypt, alongside several western airlines that specifically refrain from flying to Sharm el-Sheikh.
Supposedly, the plane showed no immediate signs of distress, reported by an official from, FlightRadar24, the flight-tracking website. However, on discovery of the risk, security was tightened at the airport and reporters were limited to the fence surrounding the facility. Furthermore, the neighboring Makenzy beach, which is another popular tourist destination, was evacuated in a last ditch attempt to secure the situation. Nonetheless, another attack to add to the list that governments, police and protection agencies have not been able to prevent does not bode well for air travelers. Facing a situation which is out of our control and affecting, for many, a necessary commute for business or family reasons, we are presented with few alternatives to blind faith.
“He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,” said an official about Mustafa. Terrorist or stupidity related, security needs stepping up, and brand-new strategies are the only option. If a hijacker were able board a plane with an explosive belt as claimed, the Egyptian government would not fare well in front of aviation authorities, and existing concerns would only worsen. Thus far airports and airlines give the appearance of having few qualms about the risks of flying, beyond confiscating tiny shampoo bottles and tweezers at security, and perhaps this is the issue – while security measures are in place, we are largely ignorant of them, and it is possible that a more visual protection system needs to be put in place to deter would-be bombers and hijackers.
Today, photos were revealed of a 26-year-old hostage named Ben Innes, taking a photo with the hijacker. The bomb was later revealed to have been a fake but such a cheery photo has placed a seed of doubt about whether the stand-off was a hoax. Innes’ roommate commented on the hostage’s motivation to take the photo with Mustafa’s suicide belt, “I imagine he probably volunteered to take it as he’s not afraid to shy away from anything.”
Data sources: Huffington Post, Reuters, SMH.