VALLETTA • All the passengers aboard a Libyan plane, hijacked while on a domestic flight, were released shortly after the plane was diverted to Malta.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said 118 people aboard the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus 320 jet were freed about an hour after the aircraft landed on the island. The plane had 111 passengers on board - 82 men, 28 women and an infant. It also had seven crew members.
Mr Muscat said the hijackers surrendered, were searched and taken into custody. They were apparently seeking political asylum.
One of them told Libyan TV that he was the head of a party supporting late leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The man, who gave his name as Moussa Shaha, told Libya's Channel TV station by phone that he was the head of Al-Fateh Al-Jadeed, or The New Al-Fateh. Al-Fateh is the name that Gaddafi gave to September, the month he staged a coup in 1969, and the word came to signify his coming to power. Gaddafi was toppled and killed in an uprising in 2011.
The plane had been on a flight from Sabha to the capital Libyan Tripoli when it was rerouted. "The Afriqiyah flight from Sabha to Tripoli has been diverted and has landed in Malta. Security services coordinating operations," Mr Muscat said on his official Twitter account.
Mr Muscat later spoke to Libya's Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the north African country's fledgling unity government.
The plane could be seen on the tarmac surrounded by military vehicles and all flights in and out of the airport were initially either delayed or diverted to destinations in Italy.
"Negotiations are under way to guarantee the security of all the passengers," a source from Libya's unity government said.
An Afriqiyah Airways source said the two hijackers had threatened the pilots with an explosive device, possibly a hand grenade.
Malta International Airport tweeted that there had been "an unlawful interference" but that operations had now resumed. Flights from Brussels, London and Paris had been due to land at the airport yesterday but were delayed.
The flight from Paris has since been able to land, according to the airport's online arrivals board.
Libya has been in a state of chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Gaddafi left warring militias battling for control of different parts of the country.
One of (the hijackers) told Libyan TV that he was the head of a party supporting late leader Muammar Gaddafi. The man, who gave his name as Moussa Shaha, told Libya's Channel TV station by phone that he was the head of Al-Fateh Al-Jadeed, or The New Al-Fateh.
Forces loyal to a fledgling national unity government recently took control of the coastal city of Sirte, which had been a bastion for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group since June 2015.
Western powers have pinned their hopes of containing extremism in the energy-rich North African state on the government but it has failed to establish its authority over all of the country.
A rival authority rules the country's far east, backed by the forces under military strongman Marshal Khalifa Haftar who has been battling extremists in a second city, Benghazi.
Only local airlines - banned from European airspace - operate in Libya, with flights to Tunis, Cairo, Amman, Istanbul and Khartoum.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS