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All 109 passengers on hijacked Libyan plane released in Malta

Two armed men, loyal to deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadafi, hijacked the plane and were taken into custody.

By
Ed Adamczyk
An undated 2008 file photo shows an airplane from Libya's national airline, Afriqiyah Airways, at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands. An Afriqiyah Airways flight was hijacked on December 23 and diverted to Malta. Photo by Markus Tillman/European Pressphoto Agency
An undated 2008 file photo shows an airplane from Libya's national airline, Afriqiyah Airways, at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands. An Afriqiyah Airways flight was hijacked on December 23 and diverted to Malta. Photo by Markus Tillman/European Pressphoto Agency

LUQA , Malta, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- All 109 people aboard a plane hijacked to Malta on Friday were released unharmed, the Maltese prime minister announced.

Two armed hijackers identified as seeking asylum in Europe and members of a group loyal to deposed Libyan strongman Moammar Gadafi began releasing passengers from the Libyan state-owned Afriqyah Airlines Airbus A320 after negotiations with and Libyan authorities at the airport. The men were taken into custody after surrendering. No injuries were reported.

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The plane landed Friday morning, and was quickly surrounded by Maltese military personnel. The plane was hijacked while travelling between the Libyan cities of Sebha and Tripoli and diverted to Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea. Malta state television reported the plane was taken over by the two unidentified men who carried hand grenades, Sky News said. The hijackers' demands were not made public, and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat's office said he led the National Security Committee in dealing with the incident.

The plane arrived at the airport in Luqa, Malta, late Friday morning. A rolling staircase was brought to the plane at 1:50 p.m., and about 25 passengers disembarked and walked to Luftansa's nearby terminal. The rest were released in small groups. Initial reports said the passengers included 82 men, 28 women and one infant; all are believed to be Libyan citizens.

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During the negotiations, Muscat's office confirmed a negotiating team was at Malta International Airport, and Libya's Al Naba television said Maltese authorities were aboard the plane and negotiating with the hijackers.

The plane left Sebha at 10:10 a.m. Friday, and ground communication with the plane was lost after the hijacking. It arrived in Malta at 11:32 a.m. The airport initially canceled other arrivals, but by 12:51 p.m. reported that all airport operations had resumed despite continuing negotiations with the hijackers at the airport.

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