Libyan hijackers release hostages and surrender peacefully in Malta

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The two hijackers of a Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 surrender to Maltese military on the runway at Malta International Airport, December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit-Lupi MALTA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN MALTA TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2WBGL

The two hijackers of a Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 surrender to Maltese military on the runway at Malta International Airport, Dec. 23, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Darrin Zammit-Lupi

Two Libyan hijackers surrendered to authorities in Malta after threatening to use hand grenades to blow up a plane they diverted from Libya. 

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, tweeted “hijackers surrendered, searched and taken in custody.” He also said that weapons found on the hijackers were replicas.

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The Afriqiyah Airways flight took off in Sabha, a city in the southwest of Libya, and was bound for the capital Tripoli. Instead, the one-hour flight arrived on the island of Malta two hours later.

The 117 people on board, including crew members, were peacefully released from the plane by the two men.

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Muscat tweeted that the first group of passengers released were women and children. The first group was followed by another group of 25 and more groups followed until the crew were released last.

The pilot, Ali Milad, told Libya Channel TV network that the hijackers — whom he identified as Moussa Shaha and Ahmed Ali of Libya — had originally ordered him to go to Rome, the Associated Press reported.  

Maltese troops survey a hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 on the runway at Malta Airport, December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Darrin Zamit-Lupi MALTA OUT - RTX2W9Q3

Maltese troops survey a hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 on the runway at Malta Airport, Dec. 23, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Darrin Zamit-Lupi

According to AP, the pilot explained that the men were on a quest to seek political asylum in Europe and wanted to start a political party called “the New Fateh,” a reference to the revolution led by the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi after his coup in 1969. One man was seen waving a green flag associated with Gadhafi as he exited the plane.

Since Gadhafi’s ousting and death in 2011, Libya has experienced political uncertainty, which has led to the rise of different militant groups.

The BBC reported that European airspace has not been open to Libyan flights for over two years.

The post Libyan hijackers release hostages and surrender peacefully in Malta appeared first on PBS NewsHour.