A lovesick Egyptian man wearing a fake explosives belt who hijacked an EgyptAir flight Tuesday wanted to get a letter to his ex-wife before he surrendered, officials said.
At first it was believed to be an act of terrorism when the plane was diverted and forced to land in Cyprus.
But Seif El Din Mustafa, it turned out, only wanted to “reunite with his former Cypriot wife,” Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades told the U.K. Mirror.
Anastasiades, in an earlier appearance, was asked whether the incident involved a woman. “Always, there is a woman,” he replied, drawing laughter from reporters.
Mustafa — who also posed for a selfie with a grinning passenger — made several other bizarre requests, leading authorities to believe he was “unstable.”
“From the start, it was clear that this wasn’t an act of terrorism, and despite the fact that the individual appeared to be dangerous in terms of his behaviour, we understood that this was a psychologically unstable person,” Cyprus’ Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told reporters.
Police brought Mustafa’s ex-wife to the to the airport. “After that, he started asking for European Union representatives to assure him about matters that had no logical basis,” Kasoulides said.
At one point the hijacker demanded the release of women held in Egyptian prisons, but he then dropped the demand and made others. “His demands made no sense or were too incoherent to be taken seriously,” the minister said, adding that the contents of a letter the hijacker wanted to give to his ex-wife “were also incoherent.”
“He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is,” an Egyptian foreign ministry official told the New York Post.
Mustafa, 58, has a long criminal record, with charges including forgery, theft and drug possession. He’s also reportedly served time in prison.
The ministry posted surveillance camera footage on its Facebook page that it said showed Mustafa being thoroughly searched at the airport. It said his handbag contained items which he later used to “give the impression that he is wearing an explosive belt.”
He was taken into custody after releasing all passengers and crew unharmed following an hours-long standoff at Larnaca airport in Cyprus.
Just minutes before the arrest, local TV footage showed several people disembarking from the Airbus A320 and a man who appeared to be a crew member climbing out of the cockpit window and sliding down the side of the plane. The hijacker had earlier freed most of the passengers but kept on board seven people — four crew members and three passengers.
The initial group of passengers released by the hijacker was seen calmly walking off the plane down a set of stairs, carrying their hand luggage and boarding a bus
“There was panic at the beginning, but the crew told us to be quiet. They did a good job to keep us all quiet so the hijacker does not do anything rash,” Egyptian passenger Farah el-Dabani told the Dubai-based Al-Arabiyah TV network.
The incident raised more questions about security at Egyptian airports, five months after a Russian aircraft crashed minutes after it took off from Egypt’s Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
All 224 people on board were killed in the crash. Russia later said a bomb brought down the aircraft, and ISIS claimed responsibility.