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Pilot: Hijacker Carried Powder That Looked Like An Explosive

March 28, 1996

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Passengers of an Egypt Air jetliner hijacked to Libya were flown back to Cairo today, after posing for souvenir photographs with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The 145 passengers, including 16 Americans, arrived at Cairo International Airport from the Libyan port city of Benghazi, where they spent the night after Wednesday’s hijacking.

Tourism Minister Mamdouh el-Beltagui greeted them, apologizing for the ``hard experience″ and inviting them to a gala dinner at government expense.

Cairo had been their original destination: The Egypt Air A320 Airbus from Jiddah, Saudi Arabia was about five minutes away from landing in Cairo when an Egyptian man forced his way into the cockpit demanding to go to Libya.

In an interview today with Egypt’s Middle East News Agency, the pilot, Amenhotep Nassar, said when he told the hijacker he didn’t have enough fuel to fly to Libya, the man pulled out a cigarette lighter and tried to set fire to a bag of what looked like explosives.

The hijackers, a man and two teen-age boys, surrendered in Libya five hours later and demanded an audience with world leaders so they could convey a message from God.

The passengers, who also included 59 Canadians, 35 French and 17 Japanese, were freed in Libya’s Mediterranean city of Martubah, 150 miles west of Egypt, and bused to Benghazi, where they met with Gadhafi today.

The Libyan leader told the passengers he was glad they and the seven crew members were safe. ``You are welcome in your country,″ Gadhafi said, implying they should consider Libya their second home.

Gadhafi shook hands with the passengers and posed with them for snapshots, Libya’s official JANA news agency said. He was accompanied by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, who rushed to Libya to coordinate returning the passengers and crew to Cairo.

The Airbus, en route from Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, to Cairo, had been hijacked to Libya after a stop in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor, a tourist site famous for its spectacular Pharaonic ruins.

Egyptian Interior Ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified the hijackers as a Luxor restaurant owner, his 19-year-old son and a 14-year-old nephew.

Egypt’s Information Minister Safwat el-Sherif suggested to reporters today that Egypt would seek to extradite the hijackers. Asked about bringing the men back for trial, el-Sherif said: ``Egypt and Libya signed 11 agreements about cooperation in all fields.″

Ironically, some of the Canadians on board the hijacked plane were employees of the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, whose duties include keeping track of hijackings.

The hijackers demanded an audience with the leaders of the United States, Egypt and Libya.

``They said ... they had a message from God to Gadhafi and (President) Clinton and President Mubarak and they wanted to lift the closure of the Palestinians,″ Ganzoury said.

Israel sealed the West Bank and Gaza Strip last month after a series of suicide bombings by Muslim militants in Israel. The closure has worsened already bleak economic conditions there.

The hijackers also said they had new information on the attempt on Mubarak’s life in Ethiopia last June, Egyptian television said.

Libya’s news agency, JANA, said the men surrendered after Gadhafi spoke with one of them. ``The passengers are guests in Libya because they are foreigners and no harm must come to them,″ the agency quoted the Libyan leader as telling the hijacker.

The United Nations banned flights in and out of Libya in 1992, in an effort to force it to turn over two suspects in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

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