Hijacking of jet ends peacefully amid confusion over motive


October 04, 2006|By Los Angeles Times

ROME -- The hijacking of a Turkish airliner by at least one unarmed Turk reported to have a message for Pope Benedict XVI ended peacefully last night, with the passengers free and unharmed and the assailant in custody.

The hijacked Boeing 737-400 with 113 people aboard landed on Italy's Adriatic coast, near Brindisi. The plane was en route to Istanbul from the Albanian capital of Tirana when diverted over Greece.

Initial reports said two hijackers were protesting the pope's coming visit to Turkey, apparently another violent reaction to recent statements made by the pontiff that cast Islam in a bad light and triggered protests.

Later reports said there was one hijacker, a male identified as a Christian who merely wanted to communicate with the pope. In that account, the hijacker asked for political asylum in Italy.

As authorities were piecing together details and motives, relieved passengers emerged from the aircraft, parked on an isolated runway at the Brindisi airport. There were no indications that the hijacker threatened to harm the passengers.

The Turk stormed the cockpit of the Turkish Airlines flight about 20 minutes after takeoff from Tirana, Istanbul Deputy Gov. Vedat Muftuoglu told Turkish television. The man apparently claimed that he had an accomplice in the cabin, which gave rise to the belief that two hijackers were involved.

"They told the pilots that they wanted to carry out an act to protest the pope and that they wanted the plane diverted to Rome and that [the pilots] should not resist," Muftuoglu said.

Other senior Turkish and Italian officials discounted the idea that a protest over the pope motivated the incident, saying the man wanted to avoid military service in Turkey and was seeking political asylum.

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