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Most passengers released from hijacked Libyan plane 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.
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A standoff is under way at the Maltese International Airport where a hijacked plane from Libya landed Friday with 118 people on board. Most of the passengers have been released, according to Malta's prime minister.


Hours after a hijacked Afriqiyah Airways plane landed in the tiny Mediterranean island nation, a first group of 25 passengers, including women and children, were released, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter.

A rapid evacuation of passengers, as well as some crew members, followed, according to Muscat. In a subsequent Twitter post, the Maltese prime minister said, “Potentially 2 hijackers and some crew members” were still on board the aircraft.

The Airbus A320, with 111 passengers and seven crew members on board, had been on a domestic Libyan route operated by Afriqiyah Airways from Sabha in the south 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. The hijacker said he would release the passengers as long as his as yet unspecified demands were accepted.

However an Afriqiyah Airways official later said two hijackers had expressed a willingness to release the passengers but insisted that they will keep the pilot. There were no details on the demands of the hijackers.

Maltese Prime Minister Muscat said he had spoken to his Libyan counterpart, Fayez Sarraj, about the hijacking and that Maltese security teams had surrounded the aircraft.

The plane could be seen on the tarmac surrounded by military vehicles and all flights have been cancelled.

Chaos and instability in Libya

Libya has been in a state of chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Muammar 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.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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