Ankara: Two men claiming to be Al-Qaeda members who hijacked a Turkish plane surrendered at an airport in southern Turkey on Saturday after hours of negotiations, officials said.
“The terrorists have been taken in, the hijack is over,” Hayrettin Balcioglu, the deputy governor of Antalya where the plane made an emergency landing after its seizure, told the Anatolia news agency.
Turkish Interior Minister Osman Gunes identified one of the hijackers as Turkish national Mehmet Resat Ozlu, and the other as a man who had a Syrian passport, but was believed to be of Palestinian origin.
“We persuaded them to surrender themselves,” Gunes told reporters here.“They are currently being questioned by police.”
The CNN-Turk news channel showed two people leaving the plane and being handcuffed before being taken away in a white vehicle.
“The hijackers regret what they did and want to return to Iran,” a crew member was quoted by the NTV news channel as saying.
The hijackers, who said they were carrying a bomb, commandered the Atlas Jet plane shortly after it took off from an airport in Turkish northern Cyprus at 7:15 am (0415 GMT) for Istanbul with 136 passengers and six crew, the private airline’s manager, Tuncay Doganer, said.
Passengers said the hijackers wanted the aircraft, an MD-83, to fly to Iran or Syria, but the pilots said they needed to refuel and landed in the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya at 8:15 am.
Turkish authorities struck an agreement with the hijackers to release women and children on board through the front of the plane, but while they were being let out, most of the remaining passengers managed to break down the back door of the aircraft and jump out.
The pilots also jumped out of the cockpit window, Aydin Kizilhan, the manager of the company which leased the aircraft to Atlas Jet, said.
There were conflicting reports on how many people had been left in the plane. Doganer said there were four passengers and two crew members, while media reports said there were five passengers and two crew members.
In their negotiations, the hijackers demanded that authorities send new pilots to the aircraft and allow it to take off for Iran or another Middle Eastern country, the CNN-Turk news channel said.
Turkish security officials refused the demands and asked the hijackers to release the remaining captives and turn themselves in, it added.
The passengers said the hijackers, who appeared to be aged between 25 and 3O, spoke a mix of Arabic, English and Turkish.
“They said they were from Al-Qaeda. They tried to break the cabin door,” Erhan Erkul, one of the passengers who fled, told NTV.
“After we landed, we managed to force open the back door and jumped out. The hijackers could not intervene, they were in the front of the plane,” he said.
Another passenger, Hakki Dogusoy, said the hijackers had said they would not harm the passengers.
“They said ‘We are Muslims. You are Muslims too. We will not do you any harm´” Dogusoy said.
One of the passengers still aboard the aircraft, identified only by his first name Mahmut, told CNN-Turk that the hijackers were not agressive.
“They say they only want to make their voice heard,” he added.
Salih Usar, transport minister in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Ankara, told the Anatolia news agency the hijackers were protesting against the policies of the United States.