Las Palamas, Spain: Spanish police on Thursday arrested an armed Mauritanian man who had hijacked an Air Mauritania aircraft with 79 people on board and forced it to land in the Canary Islands. The man was seeking political asylum in France.
“The hijacking finished in a satisfactory manner,” Canary Islands police chief Jose Segura said on Spanish national radio, adding that the 71 passengers and eight crew members had been freed.
Spanish police said late Thursday that the hijacker was a Mauritanian. The government had indicated earlier that he was Moroccan.
The unidentified hijacker, who was carrying two guns, did not resist arrest, Segura said. He had been overpowered by passengers as the aircraft landed in Las Palmas, and was slightly injured, witnesses said quoted by Spanish media.
The hijacker was seeking to take the plane to France, a source close to the Spanish government told AFP, adding that the man had no link to terrorism.
He “wanted to force the pilot to fly to France. He (the pilot) answered that there was not enough fuel,” said one airport security official.
According to a report on Moroccan television station El Ayoun, several of the passengers were “lightly wounded.”
The plane, a Boeing 737, had taken off from Nouakchott at 5:40 pm (1740 GMT). It was scheduled to stop over in Nouadhibou, Mauritania’s second city in the north of the country, within 45 minutes of flying out of the Mauritanian capital, but was diverted.
It tried to land at Dakhla, a small coastal city in Western Sahara, about 1,770 kilometres (1,100miles) south of Rabat, but was refused permission, security forces sources said.
“They wanted to refuel in Dakhla, but the Moroccan authorities refused. They then went to Las Palmas to re-fuel,” with plans to proceed to France after that, one source said.