Libya Malta hijack: First passengers released at airport

Media captionA number of passengers have left the plane at Malta International Airport

The first people have been allowed off a hijacked Libyan jet during a stand-off at Malta International Airport.

Malta’s Prime Minister has said only some of the crew remain on board the domestic Afriqiyah Airways flight but it remains unclear how many hijackers there are.

At least one man claiming to have a hand grenade threatened to blow up the plane, according to local reports.

The Airbus A320 which was flying from Sabha to Tripoli when it was diverted.

It is believed that 118 people were aboard the plane.

Initial information suggests the hijacker is trying to claim political asylum in Malta, the mayor of Sabha, Colonel Hamed al-Khayali, told the BBC.

But a Libyan member of parliament who spoke to a colleague on board the flight told Reuters news agency the demands were not yet known.

Col Khayali also said there was only one hijacker – although some reports say there are two.

He added there were 111 passengers on board the Airbus A320, plus seven crew members.

The plane took off from Sabha at 11:10 local time (08:10 GMT), landing in Malta two hours and 20 minutes later.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that his country’s security forces were standing by.

Mr Muscat said on Twitter that the passengers list included 82 men, 28 women and one baby.

Col Khayali said the plane had left Sabha’s Tmenhant military airport at 11:05 local time for Tripoli.

“It was hijacked and investigations are continuing to establish how any explosives or weapons made it on board,” he said.

He added that security at Tmenhant was poor, with a distance of 5km (3.1 miles) travel between the airport building and planes.

“That is an open space and it is possible that along that route something was smuggled on board,” he said.

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The deputy mayor for Lija in Malta, Madga Magri Naudi, told the BBC that paramedics and soldiers were standing by to see “what the next step is”.

A special committee meeting was taking place to address the situation, she added.

In the meantime, Malta International Airport has been closed and all flights have been diverted.

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