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EgyptAir plane hijacked in blow to struggling Egypt tourism

A man leaves the hijacked aircraft of Egyptair from pilot window at Larnaca airport in Cyprus Tuesday, March 29, 2016. An Egyptian man hijacked an EgyptAir plane Tuesday and forced it to land on the island of Cyprus, where all passengers and crew were eventually freed and he himself was arrested, Egyptian and Cypriot officials said. The hijacker had kept four crew members and three passengers on board, but TV footage later showed several people disembarking from the aircraft and a man who appeared to be a crew member climbing out of the cockpit window. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
A man leaves the hijacked aircraft of Egyptair from pilot window at Larnaca airport in Cyprus Tuesday, March 29, 2016. An Egyptian man hijacked an EgyptAir plane Tuesday and forced it to land on the island of Cyprus, where all passengers and crew were eventually freed and he himself was arrested, Egyptian and Cypriot officials said. The hijacker had kept four crew members and three passengers on board, but TV footage later showed several people disembarking from the aircraft and a man who appeared to be a crew member climbing out of the cockpit window. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

(Bloomberg) -- A passenger falsely claiming he was armed with explosives hijacked an EgyptAir plane carrying 71 other people and forced it to land in Cyprus, casting new doubts on Egypt’s ability to revive desperately needed tourism.

The hijacker, an Egyptian national, released most of the other passengers and crew before surrendering to authorities at the airport in Larnaca. None of the people aboard the plane was harmed during the seven-hour ordeal, Cypriot authorities said.

7-hour ordeal


“It’s over,” the Foreign Ministry said on its Twitter account. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said the hijacker wore a belt with telephone covers that looked like explosive devices but wasn’t carrying actual explosives. President Nicos Anastasiades ruled out terrorism as a motive.

Cyprus’s Rik TV said the hijacker had asked that a letter be delivered to his ex-wife, who lives in Cyprus. She was taken to the airport to speak with him, Kasoulides said.

The hijacking dealt a new blow to Egypt’s efforts to project an image of stability to tourists and investors five months after a Russian passenger crashed in the Sinai peninsula in a suspected bombing claimed by Islamic State. Militant attacks have surged since 2013, though most have been centered in north Sinai.

“Even if recent developments confirm that this is not a terrorist attack, but rather an asylum-seeker who wants to join his ex-wife, this raises further concerns about security” at Egyptian airports, Kinda Chebib, lead analyst at Euromonitor International, said in e-mailed comments.

Egyptian authorities hired consultancy Control Risks Group to review airport security after the downing of the Russian plane.

The hijacker reportedly asked for a translator and sought political asylum shortly before giving himself up. Kasoulides said the man requested fuel to fly to Turkey and that he asked to speak to a European Union representative.

Egypt's struggling economy


Egypt’s economy has struggled since the 2011 uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak. The pound has slumped in the black market and capital outflows have left businesses starved of dollars to import raw materials. A slight recovery in its crucial tourism industry was cut short by the Russian plane crash.

EgyptAir, one of the oldest airlines in the Middle East and a member of Star Alliance, has incurred cumulative losses of about $1 billion since the Egyptian revolution began in 2011. The carrier has a fleet of about 80 aircraft with a target to expand to 125 planes.

--With assistance from Ahmed Feteha, Salma El Wardany, Marco Bertacche, Eleni Chrepa and Georgios Georgiou.

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Copyright 2016 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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