Flights resume at Malta Airport after hijacking

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Afriqiyah Airways says the men who hijacked its plane wanted to go to Rome but ended up in Malta instead due to fuel limitations.

Flight 8U209 was hijacked Friday as it flew from Sabha to Tripoli with 111 passengers and six crew members on board.

The airline said when the plane reached a cruising altitude of 36,000 feet, the pilot received a demand to land in Rome and was told by another crew member that the hijackers were armed.

The pilot proposed landing in Tripoli and holding negotiations there but the hijackers refused, so Malta was the next option.

The hijacking ended peacefully with all passengers and crew members freed and the Libyan hijackers surrendering to Maltese officials.

It expects its flight schedule to fully recover by the end of Friday. As of 6 p.m., three outgoing flights remained delayed and seven incoming flights that were delayed are expected later in the evening.

When emergency crews rushed to surround the hijacked plane, the airport building was closed for less than 30 minutes with a total of 44 flights affected. Nine incoming flights were diverted, while delays were registered across 20 departing flights and 15 arrivals.

A Libyan lawmaker says he is not surprised that a plane from the desert oasis city of Sabah was hijacked to Malta, because security measures are "messy" at the Tamanhet airport there.

The Sabha airport was closed after tribal clashes two years ago and its air base was turned into a civilian airport for internal Libyan flights only. A small militia from the city of Misrata in northwestern Libya has been guarding it since 2014.

Salah Qalma, a lawmaker from Sabah, says "it's very easy for anyone to enter without passing through the electronic gates." While the airport has an electronic gate at its arrival hall, there are no electronic gates or guards at the adjacent exit gates.

He also said the building has no fence or guards outside it and planes are not separated from the parking lot outside the airport.

Malta's prime minister says the two Libyan men who hijacked a plane and diverted it to Malta had a hand grenade and a pistol on them and a second pistol was found on the plane during search by Maltese soldiers.

Joseph Muscat told a news conference Friday that the 111 passengers on the plane will be returned to Libya in the coming hours after they are questioned by police.

He says the hijackers eventually surrendered peacefully without making any conditions after the Maltese government insisted that all passengers had to be released.

He says the hijackers are now being interrogated.