Hijacker Seizes Moroccan Plane, But Incident Ends Peacefully
LAS PALMAS, Canary Islands (AP) _ A hijacker forced a Moroccan twin-engine plane to fly from the Western Sahara to Grand Canary Island on Tuesday, then gave up after holding eight people hostage for hours, a Spanish official said.
The official, Eligio Hernandez, told a news conference the arms brandished by Mohamed Abdallah Bin Namou were fake - a toy pistol and a phony grenade.
He identified Bin Namou, 37, as a city employee from El Aaiun in the disputed Moroccan territory of Western Sahara and said police were holding Bin Namou pending charges.
Hernandez said the man forced the crew of the Royal Air Maroc ATR-42 turboprop to fly to the Canaries after it left Smara in the Western Sahara on a regularly scheduled flight to El Aaiun.
Bin Namou let the six passengers leave unharmed two hours after the plane made an emergency landing at Gando Airport, and gave himself up to police unconditionally two hours and 35 minutes after that, Hernandez said.
He said the two crew members were freed unharmed when Bin Namou surrendered.
Earlier, a police officer at the airport said the plane carried four crew.
Moroccan King Hassan II is to make his first official visit to Spain on Sunday, and both Hernandez and Spanish Foreign Minister Francisco Fernandez Ordonez confirmed that Bin Namou had demanded that a letter concerning the visit be made public.
Hernandez said the letter seemed motivated more by religious than political beliefs but gave no details.
In Rabat, the Moroccan capital, the airline referred to hijacker as ″mentally unstable.″
Grand Canary Island, 135 miles west of the Western Sahara in the Atlantic, is part of the seven-island chain that is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.
Spain abandoned its colony in the Western Sahara in 1975, and Hassan sent thousands of civilians to occupy the area. The Polisario National Liberation Front also claims the Western Sahara and has waged a desert guerrilla war against the Moroccan army since 1975.
Morocco and the Polisario have accepted in principle a U.N.-supervised referendum to determine the fate of the 102,700-square-mile territory inhabited by about 73,000 mainly nomadic Western Saharans.
In Madrid, Polisario spokesman Ahmed Hash said his organization had nothing to do with the hijacking.