Hijack bungle as pilots and passengers escape
By Gethin Chamberlain | Sunday Telegraph | August 19, 2007
An attempt to hijack a passenger plane and fly it to Iran ended in shambles when the hijackers inadvertently allowed the pilots to get off after it landed to refuel.
Most of the remaining hostages then escaped through the rear exit while their captors were supervising a release of women and children at the front. The Turkish Atlas-Jet airliner was hijacked shortly after take-off at 7.15am yesterday by two men claiming to have a bomb. It had just left Ercan airport in northern Cyprus, en route for Istanbul.
The hijackers bungled from the start. They tried to break down the door to the cockpit, but failed and resorted to talking to the pilots on a phone outside the door.
The hijackers demanded to be flown to Iran or Syria, but the pilots persuaded them that the plane had to land at the southern Turkish resort of Antalya to refuel.
The plane, carrying 136 passengers and six crew, duly returned to the ground only for the hijackers to quickly lose control of the situation. As the they were releasing women and children from the front exit, most of the other passengers managed to escape through doors towards the rear of the plane, scrambling over the wings and jumping to safety. The pilots, meanwhile, climbed out of the cockpit window and made good their escape under the supervision of the security forces.
With only six hostages left - two crew and four passengers - the hijackers demanded that the pilots return to fly them to "any country in the Middle East", but were persuaded of the hopelessness of their situation and surrendered.
At least two passengers said the hijackers were members of al-Qaeda, but others said they had not heard the claims.
Government officials in Northern Cyprus said the two men were Iranians protesting against the US. An Iranian government spokesman said they would not have been permitted to land, describing hijacking as a "detestable act".
The bomb the two men were thought to be carrying later turned out to be made of modelling clay.
The Turkish Interior Minister, Osman Gunes, identified one of the hijackers as a Turkish national, Mehmet Resat Ozlu, and the other as Abdul Aziz Maliki, a Palestinian travelling on a Syrian passport. "We persuaded them to surrender themselves," he said. "They are currently being questioned by police."
One passenger, Erhan Erkul, saw the hijackers run towards the cockpit shortly after takeoff and try, but fail, to break down the door. "They claimed to have bombs," he said.
Hakki Dogusoy, another passenger, said they had promised not to harm those on board. "They said 'We are Muslims. You are Muslims too. We will not do you any harm'," he said.
There have been several hijackings of Turkish planes in recent years. Hijacks and bomb threats are used as tactics by a number of radical groups, ranging from Leftist militants to Kurdish separatists. In most cases, the hijackers have surrendered and the passengers have been safely evacuated.