The hijacking of an Egyptian plane that was diverted to Cyprus is not related to terrorism, the island’s president confirmed, as it emerged a man on board claiming he had a suicide belt was trying to contact his estranged wife.
A number of “foreign” hostages are being held aboard the EgyptAir passenger plane, which was forced to divert and land in Cyprus.
Britons and an Irish national were said to be among those on board, according to local reports.
It remains unclear, however, if they are among the crew and four passengers currently being held by the hijacker, named by Egyptian media as 27-year-old Ibrahim Samaha, on the EgpytAir plane.
Samaha is believed to be seeking asylum in Cyprus and reports say he is trying to get in touch with his ex-wife.
The flight had been travelling from Alexandria on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to the capital Cairo with 81 passengers and crew, when it was taken over by a man armed with an explosive vest.
Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades said the hijacking is “not something which has to do with terrorism” and that the government is doing its utmost to ensure the remaining passengers are safely released.
He added: “It’s all to do with a woman. We are doing everything to release the hostages.”
According to The Guardian, an official at Egypt’s ministry of foreign affairs said: “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.”
Egyptian government officials said the hijacker initially wanted to go to Istanbul in Turkey but was told by the captain there was not enough fuel.
Negotiations at Larnaca airport have so far resulted in the release of all other people on the plane, the airline said.
Dramatic footage appeared to show the released hostages leaving the plane.
Larnaca Airport has since been closed to the public and all flights have been diverted.
The director of Alexandria airport, Hossni Hassan, said 26 foreigners were aboard the flight, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch, two Belgians, an Italian, a French national, two Greeks and one Syrian.
Three other foreigners could not be identified.
EgyptAir has set up an emergency line for worried relatives – 0800 77 77 000, for those calling within Egypt, and 002 02 25989320 29.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it is working with Cypriot and Egyptian authorities, while Ireland’s department of foreign affairs said it is liaising with consular staff in Egypt but could not confirm if an Irish citizen was on board the plane.