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EgyptAir’s hijacking raises new security questions over “Egyptian airport security”

The hijacker of a domestic EgyptAir flight with 63 passengers and crew aboard surrendered at an airport in Cyprus on Tuesday. No one was harmed, and the authentic-looking suicide vest he was wearing turned out to be fake.

For almost six hours Seif Eldin Mustafa held the world in suspense after hijacking an EgyptAir plane on a short flight from Alexandria to Cairo, then diverting it across the Mediterranean to Cyprus.

Shortly afterwards Mustafa emerged from the aircraft, his hands above his head. He was quickly tackled by security officers, brought to the ground and arrested. Not long after pictures surfaced apparently depicting the Egyptian standing in the plane, his shirt wide open revealing his bulky “suicide belt”. Another image showed a passenger grimacing next to him. The Cypriot government spokesman later described the explosive belt as a fake.

Officials in Nicosia and Cairo expressed relief that the siege had ended without a shot being fired or blood being shed.

The incident renewed questions about airport security in Egypt, coming just months after a Russian commercial jet was downed after departing Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh airport, apparently by a terrorist bomb.

According to CNN.com, with all the modern security procedures — belts off, shoes off, laptops out, magnetometers on, etc. — it seems unlikely the passenger is really armed with explosives. But you can never discount the possibility entirely .While it’s difficult to imagine a passenger managing to smuggle explosives aboard, in these times, no chances can be taken when lives are at stake.
The Story of the Unstable Hijacker

Mr. Mostafa commandeered the Airbus A320 airliner after it took off from Alexandria, Egypt, en route to the capital Cairo, and forced the pilot to fly to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

According to Reuters, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said the pilot, Omar al-Gammal, had told authorities that he was threatened by a passenger who claimed to be wearing an explosive belt and forced him to divert the plane to Larnaca. Reached by telephone, Gammal told Reuters that the hijacker seemed “abnormal”. Sounding exhausted, he said he had been obliged to treat the man as a serious security threat.

Alexandros Zenon, a senior foreign ministry official in Cyprus, said the EgyptAir plane asked for and was given permission to land at the international airport in Larnaca, saying it was low on fuel.

Cypriot Daily newspaper Politis on its web said the hijacker’s ex-wife Marina 51 a mother of five from Oroklini in Larnaca district arrived at the airport around 12.30 pm.

A police spokeswoman told a Cyprus Mail reporter at the airport that theletter has been handed to Marina and it is being translated.

In the letter the hijacker is said to have demanded the release of women political prisoners in Egypt but this was not confirmed.

Mr. Mostafa then demanded the release of 63 women imprisoned in Cairo and insisted that a four-page letter be passed to his Cypriot ex-wife, a Cypriot police official said.

Police took Mr. Mostafa into custody after his surrender and were questioning him. The Cypriot foreign minister said the fake explosives vest Mr. Mostafa wore consisted of mobile-phone covers.

Egypt’s Interior Ministry said he had been properly screened and that he fashioned the fake bomb from the ordinary contents of his carry-on bag once he had passed through security at Alexandria’s airport.

The ministry posted video and photos on its Facebook page showing him being frisked by a police officer as he passed through security and the scan of his nearly empty carry-on.

It said he had been previously arrested for crimes including forgery, impersonation, burglary and drug dealing. He had been convicted for forgery and sentenced to a year in prison.

He escaped from prison in 2011 during the chaos surrounding the uprising that unseated longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, but was taken back into custody and finished serving his jail sentence in January, it said.

The passengers were flown to Cairo late Tuesday and greeted by the prime minister amid a crush of news media.

Amira Othman was among those waiting at the Cairo airport. She said was watching the standoff unfold on television when she saw her daughter, flight attendant Nihal Barkouqi, among the crew escorting passengers off the jet.

“I saw her face, and it hit me,” she said. “I screamed and kept screaming and couldn’t stop.”

She said she reached her daughter by phone after several hours. “She was the one who kept reassuring me that it is all being taken care of and that it will be fine,” Ms. Othman said.

 

CNN:How could someone board a plane wearing an explosive belt?

A. Well, in this case, no one did. The hijacker, identified by authorities as Seif El Din Mustafa, was “unstable” and it appeared at first that he might have had explosives, Homer Mavrommatis, director of the Cypriot foreign ministry crisis center, told CNN.
But after he gave himself up, authorities determined that his “suicide belt” — which looked like mobile phone cases — was fake, according to Alexandros Zenon, the permanent secretary of Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry.
At first, authorities had to take the claim seriously out of an abundance of caution. And because it didn’t happen this time does not mean it could never happen.
One possible way to do it would be to have inside help, such as an airport security worker.

Security questions

In December 2015, the Egyptian government hired the London based consultancy Control Risks Group to conduct a full security review at Egyptian airports, starting with Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh. A spokeswoman for the group told IBTimes UK that the review was due to be completed on 28 April.

“The review is to assist the Egyptian Government by providing recommendations for improvements at these airports with the aim of ensuring that they meet international best practice and governance standards, said spokeswoman Georgina Parkes, adding that the company would not disclose details of the review while it was underway.

Reporting from Alexandra, CNN’s Ian Lee said additional security had been put in place: “Travelling through that airport myself, there are layers, levels of security you have to go through before you are able to get to your plane,” he said. “There’s multiple times where they scan your luggage.”

The international inspections have been criticised by some politicians in the country, who argue that they undermine faith in the country’s own government security apparatus and point out the recommendations are non-binding. Others though have argued that the inspections are vital for restoring faith in Egyptian security following the Sinai crash, which has cost Egypt millions in lost tourism revenue.

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