A man walks in front of Afriqiyah Airways planes parked at Tripoli International Airport in Libya on Friday.  Picture: REUTERS/HANI AMARA
A man walks in front of Afriqiyah Airways planes parked at Tripoli International Airport in Libya on Friday. Picture: REUTERS/HANI AMARA

Valletta — Hijackers claiming to have a grenade took over a Libyan plane and diverted it to the island of Malta on Friday.

Army vehicles surrounded the plane on the tarmac, and flights were delayed or diverted to Italy.

An hour later, the door of the Airbus A320 opened, and a group of women and children descended a mobile staircase. Dozens more passengers were released minutes later.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said altogether 109 passengers were released, which would leave only two people behind, possibly the hijackers. The flight had a crew of seven.

"Crew members being released," Muscat tweeted. "Potentially two hijackers and some crew members still on board aircraft." Maltese officials thought at first there was only one hijacker.

The Afriqiyah Airways aircraft was hijacked between Sabha in southern Libya and the capital Tripoli.

"The Afriqiyah flight from Sabha to Tripoli has been diverted and has landed in Malta. Security services coordinating operations," Muscat tweeted earlier.

"It has been established that Afriqiyah flight has 111 passengers on board: 82 males, 28 females, 1 infant," he said.

Muscat later spoke to Libyan prime minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj, the Maltese prime minister’s office said.

A source from Libya’s unity government spoke of "hijackers" on the plane. "Negotiations are under way to guarantee the security of all the passengers."

An Afriqiyah Airways source said two hijackers threatened pilots with an explosive, probably a grenade.

Malta International Airport tweeted that operations resumed after "an unlawful interference".

Flights from Brussels, London and Paris were delayed, but one from Paris had since landed, according to the airport’s online arrivals board. Outgoing flights were shown to be resuming.

AFP

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