Plane hijacking ends peacefully

ALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Two Libyan hijackers diverted a domestic flight to the Mediterranean island of Malta on Friday to demand asylum in Europe and create a new political party in honor of the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi, officials said. After hours of negotiations, the standoff ended peacefully with the hijackers freeing all 117 people on board and walking off the plane to surrender.

The hijacked Airbus A320 flight, operated by Afriqiyah Airways, was traveling from the Libyan oasis city of Sabha to the coastal city of Tripoli when it was diverted to Malta and landed at 11:34 a.m. local time.

Malta state television TVM said the two hijackers had hand grenades and had threatened to explode them. All flights to Malta International Airport were immediately diverted and emergency teams including negotiators were sent to the airport tarmac.

Afriqiyah Airways said when the plane reached a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet (10,980 meters), pilot Ali Milad was told the hijackers were armed and wanted to land in Rome. Milad suggested landing in Tripoli, the hijackers refused, and a decision was made to land in Malta due to fuel limitations.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told reporters the hijackers wanted negotiators to board the plane after it landed but his government refused and insisted that all passengers and crew be released.