IN WHAT seemed initially to be an extraordinary and desperate publicity stunt for the plight of Bosnia, a man hijacked a Lufthansa scheduled flight from Frankfurt to Cairo yesterday with 104 people on board and demanded to be flown to New York.
As the plane landed at JFK airport last night, it was immediately surrounded by security forces and the man surrendered.
A Protestant clergyman from Belfast and three of his congregation were reported to be among the 94 passengers. Seven Americans were also on the plane, US officials said, but most of the passengers were Egyptians.
The four Britons left Belfast on Wednesday to pick up their connecting flight in Frankfurt. The Rev Timothy Kinahan, rector of St Dorothaea's, Gilnahirk, on the eastern outskirts of Belfast, was on his way to an orphanage in Ethiopia with two women and a man.
The rector's wife, Jacqueline, said from their home last night: 'It's a very worrying time. We have had some information from Lufthansa basically saying they are on the flight and that things look quite positive.'
Bishop Gordon McMullan, Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore, named the three parishioners as Dr Pauline McCleary, Susan Shepherd and Andrew Waterworth.
According to an airport spokesman in New York, the 26-year-old hijacker had said he was unhappy with United Nations decisions on Bosnia, and wanted 'to talk to some people in New York'. The man, who was armed with a revolver, had threatened to shoot passengers if his demands were not met.
But US officials said that the man was an Arab, carrying a Norwegian passport. German authorities said that the man spoke English, and that a terrorist background 'could be excluded'.
The plane, which turned back over Austria, landed at Hanover, in northern Germany, where it refuelled before departing for New York. The threats were taken seriously enough that the authorities' original plan, to keep the plane on the ground at Hanover as long as possible, was abandoned.
The man - who was not initially identified and who the German authorities refused to confirm as a Bosnian - said that he would not offer resistance in New York.
But the Americans were taking no chances. A Swat (Special Weapons and Tactics) team, which could storm the plane, waited for the hijacker, as well as an FBI Hostage Rescue Team.
Flight LH592, an Airbus 310-300, left Frankfurt at 10.45am for Cairo, and was due to continue to Addis Ababa.
Half an hour after leaving Frankfurt, the pilot informed Austrian air traffic control of the hijacker's demands, and the plane turned back, arriving at Hanover just after noon. The plane took off again at 1.45pm, local time, with all 94 passengers and 10 crew still on board.
Germany's Interior Ministry has ordered an immediate investigation into security at Frankfurt airport.
Klaus Severin, division chief of the Federal Border Police responsible for airport safety, defended security at Frankfurt, the largest airport on continental Europe, where luggage is routinely X-rayed and passengers searched with metal-detectors.
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