Malta hijackers surrender after releasing Libyan airliner passengers

A picture taken on December 23, 2016 shows a group of hostages being released in Valletta, Malta, from the Afriqiyah Airways A320 after it was hijacked from Libya. A man who said he was armed with a grenade hijacked a Libyan plane which landed on Malta Friday with 118 people on board, Malta's prime minister and government sources on the Mediterranean island said. After more than an hour on the tarmac, the plane's door opened and a first group of women and children were seen descending a mobile staircase. "First group of passengers, consisting of women and children, being released now," Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter, adding in a later tweet that 50 passengers in all were being let off the plane. / AFP / Matthew Mirabelli / Malta OUT (Photo credit should read MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP/Getty Images)

Two hijackers surrendered Friday, hours after forcing a Libyan plane to land in Malta and threatening to blow up the aircraft.

Authorities did not say if the pair had made any demands. But one of them waved a green flag outside the aircraft, suggesting loyalty to the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Afriqiyah Airways Flight 8U209 was en route to the Libyan capital of Tripoli with 111 passengers aboard when hijackers diverted the plane.

Latest developments
• The hijackers are being interrogated, Malta’s Prime Minister says.
• The weapons they had were replicas, he says.
• All passengers and crew members on board were released.
• Hijackers diverted a plane that was en route to Tripoli.
• The hijacking caused flight diversions and delays.

The flight, an Airbus A320, took off Friday morning from Sabha, a desert city in southwestern Libya. Hijackers forced the plane to divert to Malta, some 350 kilometers (217 miles) from the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea. After the aircraft landed late Friday morning, the Maltese military led negotiations with hijackers, who threatened to blow up the aircraft with hand grenades, Foreign Ministry spokesman Etienne St. John said.

By early Friday afternoon a group of women was allowed to leave the plane. Later, the remaining passengers and crew left, smiling and chatting as they stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat posted details of negotiations in real time on his Twitter account.

The hijackers were both men and probably of Libyan nationality, Muscat told reporters after the standoff ended. The men are in custody and being interrogated, he said. Forensic tests revealed the weapons they had were replicas, Muscat said.

As the situation unfolded, several flights to and from Malta International Airport were delayed, and some were diverted to Italy.

Carmen Nistor was waiting for a flight to Munich, Germany, saying passengers were frustrated because they hadn’t been informed about the cause of the delays.

Gadhafi loyalists

Sabha, the city where the flight began its journey, has been a center of political tribal violence. Deadly clashes erupt there between tribes that were loyal to Gadhafi and anti-Gadhafi groups. Enmity runs deep between the Gaddadfa and Suleiman tribes, the most powerful armed factions in the region.

Gadhafi, who was a member of the Gaddadfa tribe and led Libya for more than 40 years, was ousted from power and assassinated by rebels in 2011 in the Arab Spring uprising.

Libya has struggled to install a stable government since then, and the leadership vacuum has allowed militant groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda to flourish.