Man Identified As EgyptAir Hijacker Wanted To Talk With Ex-Wife

Mar 29, 2016
Originally published on March 29, 2016 12:28 pm
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The man who hijacked an EgyptAir passenger jet has been arrested at the airport where he forced it to land in Cyprus. The plane was a domestic flight originally from Alexandria, Egypt to Cairo before it was hijacked. Now we're going right now to NPR's Cairo correspondent Leila Fadel for the latest. Good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Describe how this all ended.

FADEL: Well, it was quite a dramatic morning. The man - the hijacker - forced the plane to land in Cyprus around 7:50 this morning and over the course of an hour and a half, let most of the passengers go. And during that time, he kept sort of going back and forth on his demands until finally, Cypriot authorities were able to get him off the plane and arrest him. In those final moments, we saw passengers getting off the plane but also somebody climbing out of the cockpit to escape.

MONTAGNE: Right, and then by the end, either all or almost all of them had - were out of the plane by the time...

FADEL: That's right, there were only seven people left by the time this came to pass and he was arrested.

MONTAGNE: Now, the president of Cyprus emphasized early on in all of this that it was not an act of terrorism, that while this hijacker did expand his demands towards the end, he mostly seemed interested in a domestic demand - that was talking to his wife. What happened there - ex-wife, excuse me. What happened there?

FADEL: Well, yes, the man who's been identified by the Cypriot foreign minister as Seif Eldin Mustafa wanted to get a letter that he'd written in Arabic to his ex-wife. And he also asked for authorities to bring her to the airport, which they did. They brought his ex-wife to the airport during the time of negotiations. They had a team of special forces on the plane trying to reason with the man. And they said that his demands kept moving about. First he wanted political asylum and then he wanted to speak to someone in the European Union. And, of course, he wanted to speak to his ex-wife who he has four children with.

MONTAGNE: And she - but she was at one point at the airport. Know anything more about that?

FADEL: The authorities did bring her to the airport as part of his demands right before he was finally arrested.

MONTAGNE: Do we know anything else about this hijacker?

FADEL: We know very little about him. Earlier in the day, Egypt's state media had misidentified the hijacker's identity completely. All we do know is that he told the pilot that he had a suicide vest on and he wanted him to go to Cyprus. And that's what happened - they landed in Cyprus. And it's still unclear if he actually ever had explosives on his person at all or if it was a fake bomb. So at this point, there's very little that we know about who this man is and why he did this. There have been hints at whether he was just sort of an unstable person who did this. But it's unclear exactly why.

MONTAGNE: This all happened - now, you mentioned the suicide vest. He managed to get onto the plane and convince people - whether he did or did not - that he convinced people that he might have - be wearing a suicide vest. What does this say about security on an Egyptian airline?

FADEL: Well, this isn't the first time there's been a lot of questions about security at the Egyptian airports and on their airplanes. There was a Russian passenger jet that was brought down by a bomb late last year...

MONTAGNE: Right, terrible.

FADEL: ...That had caused a lot of problems for tourism.


FADEL: And so the fact that whether he had explosives or not but that the pilot believed he might have been able to smuggle explosives onto the plane will bring up more questions about Egypt's security at its airports and will likely cause problems for tourism in a country that's already dealing with such a drop in tourism.

MONTAGNE: Well, right, expand on that just briefly - this terrorism and tourism are starting to go together in Egypt.

FADEL: Well, I mean, there's been some bad news for the tourism industry. It has been targeted in the past - in this case, that's not what happened. This wasn't a target on the tourism industry. It ended up being a man who had some very personal motivations for doing this. And we still don't really understand them. But be that as it may, there's been a lot of bad news that is hurting the tourism industry in Egypt that's connected to things like plane and airport security.

MONTAGNE: Leila, thanks very much.

FADEL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And we'll be hearing about this story later in the day. But that was NPR's Cairo correspondent Leila Fadel speaking to us on assignment from Morocco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.