An alleged hijacker who forced an Egyptian plane to divert to Cyprus and took passengers and crew hostage was wearing a fake suicide vest, officials have confirmed.
The plane was carrying 56 passengers, including 26 foreigners – four of whom were Britons – on an EgyptAir domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo when a man on board claimed to have an explosive belt.
Most of those on board were freed shortly after the plane landed at Larnaca airport on the Mediterranean island at 8.50am, before the hijacker, identified as Seif El Din Mustafa, held seven people hostage for a number of hours.
The man was arrested minutes after some of those being held were seen walking down the stairs of the plane, with another escaping through a cockpit window before they were led away by security officers.
Officials revealed the explosive vest the man was apparently wearing was not real, the airline said.
Seif El Din Mustafa’s motives remain unclear but the Cypriot president said the incident was not terrorism-related.
It is understood that he wanted a letter delivered to his estranged wife. The Egyptian foreign ministry has said: “He is not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy, but they are not stupid.”
An Aberdeen man who was on board the plane took the time to pose for a photo with the hijacker.
Oil and gas industry auditor Ben Innes, 26, took a picture with a man identified by Cypriot officials as Seif El Din Mustafa.
His mother has said she is keen to get her son back home.
Pauline Innes, from Leeds, said: “We don’t really want to comment on what has happened until he’s home and we know he’s safe and well.
“Obviously he’s not come home yet and there are security issues to think about– we don’t want to talk about anything until it has all been resolved.”
She added: “All we can say is that the picture is clearly not a selfie as everyone has been describing it. You can clearly see that it is not Ben who is taking the picture. He’s in it but he’s not taking it.
“But we don’t want to speak about anything until he’s back home.”
Negotiations eventually led to the release of passengers and crew, and Seif El Din Mustafa gave himself up and was arrested. Footage posted on the official Facebook page of Egypt’s ministry of the interior appears to show the hijacker passing through security at Alexandria before boarding the flight.
He can be seen loading his bag to be scanned and calmly walking through a detector. He is then frisked by a security official before collecting his bag and walking off.
Another image posted on the page shows a scan taken of his bag, which appears largely empty.
A statement from Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said 26 foreign passengers were on board, including eight Americans, four Britons, four Dutch citizens, two Belgians, two Greeks, a French national, an Italian and a Syrian.
Aviation expert David Learmount said it seemed the captain of the flight “didn’t have faith in the security systems” and felt he had to follow the hijacker’s demands, resulting in the “first major successful hijack since 9/11”.
“It is taking us back to the security stone age – pre 9/11 when we had lots and lots of regular hijacks because the drill at that time was ‘do what the hijacker asks of you and we will deal with it on the ground with negotiators on the ground’,” he said.
“Then after 9/11 they locked cockpit doors, made them bullet proof and everything.
“The drill now is supposed to be ‘look we have a much improved security system on the ground and therefore we should be able to have faith in it’. The captain should be able to have faith in it.”