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Libyan plane hijackers surrender in Malta

© Matthew Mirabelli, AFP | A group of hostages being released from an Afriqiyah Airways A320 in Malta after it was hijacked from Libya on December 23, 2016.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-12-23

A hostage drama at the Malta International Airport ended Friday when hijackers, who diverted a Libyan passenger plane with 118 people on board, surrendered after releasing all passengers and crew.

The hijackers had been searched and taken into custody, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter hours after an Afriqiyah Airways plane landed in the tiny Mediterranean island nation.

The surrender followed the release of all passengers and crew members on board the A320. There were no reports of any injuries.

The Afriqiyah Airways plane with 111 passengers and seven crew members on board, had been on a domestic route from the southern Libyan city of Sabha to the capital Tripoli but was re-routed.

Maltese government sources initially said a single hijacker was on board and had told crew that he had a grenade. However an Afriqiyah Airways official later said there were two hijackers.

Hijackers claim to be Gaddafi supporters

One of the hijackers told a Libyan TV station he was the head of a party supporting the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The man, who gave his name as Moussa Shaha, told Libya's Channel TV station by phone that he was the head of Al-Fateh Al-Jadeed, or The New Al-Fateh. Al-Fateh is the name that Gaddafi gave to September, the month he staged a coup in 1969. The word came to signify his coming to power.

Malta plane hijacking ends

A Libyan lawmaker who spoke to one of the passengers also said the two hijackers were demanding the creation of a pro-Gaddafi party. Images circulating in the media appeared to show a hijacker stepping out of the plane with a green flag similar to those used by Gaddafi supporters.

The southern Libyan area of Sabah has long been a Gaddafi stronghold and there were clashes between anti-Gaddafi rebels and supporters of the Libyan dictator shortly after his 2011 ouster.

According to Libyan Foreign Minister Taher Siala, the two hijackers asked for political asylum in Malta

As the crisis unfolded on the tarmac Friday, Maltese Prime Minister Muscat spoke to his Libyan counterpart, Fayez Sarraj, about the hijacking while Maltese security teams surrounded the aircraft.

Chaos and instability in Libya

Libya has been in a state of chaos since the overthrow of Gaddafi left warring militias battling for control of different parts of the country.

Forces loyal to a fledgling national unity government recently took control of the coastal city of Sirte, which had been a bastion for the Islamic State group since June 2015.

Western powers have pinned their hopes of containing jihadism in the energy-rich North African state on the government, but it has failed to establish its authority over all of the country.

A rival authority rules the country's far east, backed by the forces under military strongman Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who have been battling jihadists in second city Benghazi.

Only local airlines – banned from European airspace – operate in Libya, with flights to Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Istanbul and Khartoum.

Flights to and from Malta International Airport were temporarily suspended Friday, but were gradually resuming, according to airport officials.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2016-12-23

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