Commercial Airliner Hijacked in Greece (Update: Passengers Safe, Unarmed Hijackers After Political Asylum)

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Oct 03, 2006 11:49 AM

Scroll for updates. Everyone is safe, and the hijackers weren't protesting the Pope. They were looking for political asylum. The bad-early-info bug bites again.

That's what Fox News is reporting. No details. I'll look for a story.

They apparently picked up the story from Greek radio.

Update: Hijacked in mid-air over Turkey, diverted to Brindisi, Italy.

Initial reports from Turkey say it was hijacked to protest the Pope's visit to Turkey.

Update: First AP write-through (emphasis mine):

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - A Turkish Airlines plane carrying 107 passengers from Tirana, Albania to Istanbul, Turkey, was hijacked Tuesday and landed at Italy's Brindisi airport, a company spokesman said.

Private Turkish television station NTV, quoting unidentified security officials, said plane was hijacked by two Turks to protest Pope Benedict XVI's planned visit to Turkey next month.

The plane was hijacked in Greek airspace, said airline spokesman Ali Genc.

Those are unidentified security officials, though, so grain of salt. This seems like a more traditional hijacking, since it's landed in Italy, so maybe it's not the same old radical Islam story.

Update: Allah's following, too, and notes that it was a Turkish Airlines plane.

Update: AP confirms the Pope angle with a Turkish Airlines official. 

The head of Turkish Airlines' board of directors says its aircraft was hijacked to protest the pope's visit to Turkey and that the hijackers are prepared to surrender. 

Thank goodness. Maybe we'll get out of this rage episode without any casualties. That'd be a nice change.  

Update: Off the CNN Wire, a few more details, and we're up to 107 passengers and six crew, so 113 total.

The plane sent out an SOS signal and Greek defense ministry planes escorted the aircraft out of Greek airspace. Greek officials alerted their Italian counterparts, the spokesman said.

Update: Scramble.

A Greek defence official who spoke to Reuters said the plane had entered Greek air space at 1758 (1458 GMT) and four Greek fighters took off to escort it.

The Italian air force in turn sent up two F-16s to intercept the plane and reportedly force it to land in Brindisi.

Update: No injuries or loss of life (AP).

Private Turkish television NTV and an Italian aviation official reported that the hijackers were negotiating the release of the passengers. NTV said they wanted to make a protest statement about Benedict.

"The passengers are not under any threat," Karlitekin said. "There is no loss of life or any injuries."

He added that the hijackers declared that the would surrender "the moment they hijacked the plane," which was flying from the Albanian capital of Tirana to Istanbul.

Update:  More details from an awfully wry-sounding pilot:

The Turkish captain issued an alert that his plane was hijacked and he was contacted by Greek air traffic controllers at 5:55 p.m. (10:55 a.m. EDT), 15 miles north of Thessaloniki, Greece, said Dimitris Stavropoulos, spokesman for Greece's Civil Aviation Authority.

The captain told the Greek controllers: "I have two undesirable people who want to go to Italy to see the pope and give him a message," according to Stavropoulos.

If I'm ever on a hijacked plane, I want that guy at the controls, I think.

Heard on TV that the Pope will not be changing his plans. You can't stop Benny with no jets.

Update: I just heard on TV the hijackers weren't armed. Maybe that's why the pilot sounded wry. How do you hijack a plane with no weapons? Just threats of bombs or weapons, I guess?

Update: All passengers are safe, and the hijackers, it turns out, were looking for political asylum:

Earlier reports on Tuesday that the hijackers were protesting Pope Benedict XVI's planned visit to Turkey were apparently incorrect; authorities now say that the hijackers have requested political asylum.

Turkish officials said one of the hijackers, identified as Hasan Ekinci, wrote a letter to the pope in August asking for help in avoiding service in the Turkish army.

"I am a Christian and don't want to serve a Muslim army," he wrote, adding that he had been attending church since 1998.

The hijacking incident began Tuesday afternoon when the Turkish airliner departed Tirana, Albania, heading to Istanbul, Turkey. The hijackers entered the plane's cockpit over Greek airspace, officials said.

It was almost too much to hope that a hijacked plane story would end with no casualties. Thank goodness.