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Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot arrested for 'hijacking' plane bound for Italy

The airline says all passengers are safe after aircraft was 'forced to proceed' to Swiss airport

Police have reportedly arrested a co-pilot who hijacked an Ethiopian Airlines plane, which was forced to land in Geneva on Monday.

According to police spokesman Pierre Grangean, the unnamed co-pilot, an Ethiopian born in 1983, locked the cockpit door when the pilot went to the toilet and hijacked the craft because he allegedly wanted asylum in Switzerland.

He then asked to refuel at Geneva, landed the plane and climbed down from the cockpit window on a rope, and gave himself up to police.

The man is now being questioned by the authorities.

Ethiopian Airlines confirmed in a statement that one of its flights had been “forced to proceed” to Geneva, and added that all passengers and crew are safe.

Passengers were seen leaving the aircraft and boarding a bus nearby. They were searched by police as they disembarked, a witness reported.

Flight 702, which left the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa at 00.30 local time (03.30 GMT) was due to land in Rome at 04:40 local time, but instead made an unscheduled landing in the Swiss city at 6am (5am GMT), according to Geneva police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt.

Cairo airport officials said the pilot of the plane informed the control tower at Abu Simbel in southern Egypt that his plane had been hijacked. The pilot did not ask to land in Egypt, and the plane headed for Libyan airspace, they said.

Departures from the airport have resumed. Geneva airport said the arrivals would also resume at 8.45 am (0745 GMT).

Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said Swiss federal authorities were investigating the hijacking and would press charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Additional reporting by Reuters and the Associated Press