Malta hijackers surrender after releasing Libyan airliner passengers

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VALLETTA, Malta –Two hijackers who diverted a Libyan plane to Malta and threatened to blow up the aircraft have surrendered themselves to authorities after releasing everyone on board and leaving the plane.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the hijackers had been taken in custody, bringing the dramatic incident to an end.

The Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 was carrying 111 passengers, Muscat said.

Latest developments

  • All passengers have been released, Muscat says.
  • Hijackers came of the plane with last crew members.
  • Malta’s armed forces are leading negotiations with the hijackers.
  • There were seven crew members on board.
  • Flight was scheduled to travel from Sabha to the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Television Malta earlier showed images of the plane’s door opening and of women walking down the staircase onto the tarmac. Men followed in later groups as security forces surrounded the plane.

Etienne Saint John, a spokesman for Malta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Malta’s armed forces had led the negotiations with the hijackers.

Live tracker FlightRadar24 said the aircraft was an Airbus A320.

According to the airport’s website, several flights had been diverted to Catania-Fontanarossa Airport in Italy.

Outbound flights have been delayed.

Restive Libya

The plane was on service from Sabha, a desert city in southwestern Libya, to the capital, Tripoli, on the country’s northern coast.

But it landed some 350 kilometers north of Tripoli on the small island in the Mediterranean Sea.

While it is unclear who exactly the hijackers are, Sabha has been a center for political tribal violence.

Deadly clashes still erupt there between tribes loyal to Gadhafi and anti-Gaddafi 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, 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 like ISIS and Al Qaeda to flourish there.