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Hijackers Who Commandeered Libyan Flight Surrender In Malta

An Afriqiyah Airways plane from Libya sits on the tarmac in Malta on Friday. Malta's state television said two hijackers who diverted a Libyan commercial plane to the Mediterranean island nation had threatened to blow it up.
Jonathan Borg

Updated at 11:05 a.m. ET

A flight within Libya was hijacked and diverted to Malta on Friday morning, where it landed with 118 people on board. After several hours, the passengers and crew were all evacuated and the two male hijackers surrendered, the Maltese prime minister says.

The hijackers were armed with a hand grenade and at least two pistols, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at a press conference.

The passengers were released in waves, without any apparent violence.

"Buses were driven onto the tarmac to carry passengers away," The Associated Press reports. "Television footage showed no signs of struggle or alarm."

At one point, Maltese state television reported that hijackers were threatening to blow up the plane, according to the AP.

The Times of Malta was reporting that two hijackers, claiming to be armed with a hand grenade, took over the Afriqiyah Airways flight, which was set to fly from the Libyan city of Sabha to Tripoli. It's not clear what the hijackers' demands were.

Video posted by the Times showed the plane sitting on the ground with security forces gathered nearby.

Flights into Malta International Airport have been diverted, according to the AP.

Reuters reported that the plane's pilot alerted flight control authorities of the hijacking:

"A senior Libyan security official told Reuters that when the plane was still in flight on Friday morning the pilot told the control tower at Tripoli's Mitiga airport it had been hijacked.

" 'The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,' the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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

Malta is a European island nation about 220 miles north of the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

The Wall Street Journal notes that Libyan carriers are prohibited from flying to the European Union member countries. The ban was imposed two years ago, with the EU's commissioner for transport saying "my priority in aviation is passenger safety, which is non-negotiable."

Libya has been wracked by factional violence since 2011; several planes at Tripoli Airport were destroyed by militias in 2014, the Journalwrites.

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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