Hijacking of Libyan plane ends peacefully; 2 hijackers surrender 

Two Libyan hijackers surrendered peacefully after an hours-long standoff. No was was harmed in the incident. 

Two Libyan hijackers diverted a domestic flight to the Mediterranean island of Malta on Friday. After hours of negotiations, the standoff ended peacefully with the hijackers freeing all 117 people on board and walking off the plane to surrender.

The hijackers’ motives are yet unclear, while links to terrorism are being investigated.

The hijacked Airbus A320 flight, operated by Afriqiyah Airways, was traveling from the Libyan oasis city of Sabha to the coastal city of Tripoli when it was diverted to Malta.

Malta state television TVM said the two hijackers had hand grenades and threatened to cause an explosion. All flights to Malta International Airport were immediately diverted, and emergency teams, including negotiators, were sent to the airport tarmac.

Afriqiyah Airways said when the plane reached a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet (10,980 meters), pilot Ali Milad was told the hijackers were armed and wanted to land in Rome. Milad suggested landing in Tripoli, the hijackers refused, and a decision was made to land in Malta due to fuel limitations.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told reporters the hijackers wanted negotiators to board the plane after it had landed, but his government refused and insisted that all passengers and crew be released.

The hijackers then allowed the plane’s doors to open, and a staircase was brought over so that freed passengers could disembark in groups.

After many hostages left the plane Friday afternoon, one hijacker waved Libya’s old green flag from the plane’s doorway.

Muscat announced that the hijacking was over in a tweet, saying the two hijackers surrendered unconditionally. They were searched, taken into custody and being questioned, he said.

The two hijackers had one hand grenade and one pistol on them, and a second pistol was found on the plane when it was searched by Maltese soldiers.

Searching for Links to Terrorism

In a later statement, the government said initial forensic investigations showed that the weapons used by the hijackers were identical “replica” weapons — imitations that may not actually fire but are difficult to distinguish visually from real guns.

Malta’s police commissioner said Saturday it was too early to say whether the two Libyan men had any links to terror groups.

Libya, a sprawling oil-rich North African country, has been split between rival parliaments and governments, each backed by a loose array of militias and tribes, since Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011.

Western nations view the newly formed United Nations-brokered government as the best hope for uniting the country, but Libya’s parliament, which meets in the country’s far east, has refused to accept it. Amid chaos, the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda affiliates have gained a foothold over the past years.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff