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All passengers freed as Libya plane hijackers surrender, taken into custody

An Afriqiyah Airways plane from Libya stands on the tarmac at Malta's Luqa International airport, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Two hijackers diverted a Libyan commercial plane to Malta on Friday and threatened to blow it up with hand grenades, Maltese authorities and state media said.  (AP Photo/Jonathan Borg)

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Friday said that the two hijackers who had diverted a Libyan plane carrying 118 people to the Mediterranean island of Malta have surrendered, searched and taken into custody. He announced the latest development on Twitter. Earlier today, the hijackers threatened to blow up the aircraft with hand grenades, officials said. One of the hijackers had reportedly told crew he was “pro-Gaddafi” and that he was willing to let all 111 passengers leave the Airbus A320, but not its seven crew, if his demands were met. However, it was unclear what their demands were.

According to a Reuters report, one of the hijacker reportedly told Libyan TV on Friday that he was the head of a party supporting late leader Muammar Gaddafi. The man, who gave his name as Moussa Shaha, told Libya’s Channel TV station by phone that he was the head of Al-Fateh Al-Jadeed, or The New Al-Fateh. Al-Fateh is the name that Gaddafi gave to September, the month he staged a coup in 1969, and the word came to signify his coming to power.

Tense negotiations had ensued and within a few hours at least 109 passengers were allowed to leave the plane, the prime minister said. The hijacked Airbus A320 flight, operated by Afriqiyah Airways, was traveling from the Libyan oasis city of Sabha to Tripoli when it was diverted to Malta. Malta state television TVM said the two hijackers on board had hand grenades and had threatened to explode them. Emergency teams were immediately dispatched to the site of what the Malta airport agency called an “unlawful interference” on the airport tarmac. All flights into Malta International Airport were diverted.

An Afriqiyah Airways plane from Libya stands on the tarmac at Malta's Luqa International airport, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Two hijackers diverted a Libyan commercial plane to Malta on Friday and threatened to blow it up with hand grenades, Maltese authorities and state media said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Borg)

An Afriqiyah Airways plane from Libya stands on the tarmac at Malta’s Luqa International airport, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016. Two hijackers diverted a Libyan commercial plane to Malta on Friday and threatened to blow it up with hand grenades, Maltese authorities and state media said. (AP Photo/Jonathan Borg)

Prime Minister Muscat had earlier tweeted that there was a “potential hijack situation” involving an internal Libyan flight that was diverted to Malta and that emergency operations were underway at the airport.

Malta’s National Security Committee was coordinating the hostage operation, a government statement said, and a negotiating team was on site. An official from Afriqiyah Airways said the two hijackers had expressed a willingness to release the passengers but said they would keep the pilot. The company said there were 118 people, including the crew, on board.

The doors of the plane opened at 1:44 p.m. and a staircase was moved over to its door before passengers began disembarking. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said in a tweet that 65 people left the hijacked plane so far. All were seen leaving the aircraft without hand luggage. It was not clear why the plane was hijacked or what the demands of the hijackers were.

Serraj al-Fitouri also told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV that one Libyan lawmaker was among the list of passengers. It was unclear whether the lawmaker, identified as Abdel-Salam al-Marabet, was actually on the flight.

(With inputs from agencies)

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