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Turkish Forces Seize Suspected Hijacker on Plane in Istanbul


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By Evrim Ergin ISTANBUL Fri Feb 7, 2014 4:57pm EST


The Pegasus Airlines plane from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov on the tarmac of Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport, February 7, 2014

(Reuters) - Turkish security forces on Friday seized a Ukrainian man who officials said made a bomb threat and tried to hijack a passenger plane, demanding to go to the Winter Olympics venue of Sochi just as the opening ceremony was taking place.

Turkey scrambled an F-16 fighter jet to accompany the Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane as it landed at Sabiha Gokcen airport at 6.05 p.m. (1605 GMT), after a flight from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov with 110 passengers on board.

The incident came at a time when security officials internationally are on high alert for possible militant attacks connected to the Games.

The suspect, a 45-year-old man, had a small bag containing electronic goods but no bomb, Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told reporters after the operation to capture him.

"None of the passengers were harmed and a successful operation was carried out," Mutlu said.

He said some force had to be used to seize the suspect.

"He was captured as a result of a struggle without the need to use any weapons. The hijacker was slightly wounded," he said.

There was no evidence of the suspect being linked to any organisation but investigations would be conducted, he said.

The governor had arrived at the airport earlier in the evening to take charge of a crisis centre to handle the incident. Ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene.

A Transport Ministry official said all passengers were evacuated from the plane before the operation, which took place shortly before 10 p.m. (2000 GMT).

A photograph displayed by the broadcaster NTV showed a man wearing a red, white and blue sports top, believed to be the suspect, standing up from his seat near the front of the plane as a steward looked on.

Video footage also showed passengers sitting calmly on the aircraft before the operation was carried out.

Media reports had said the suspect was believed to have drunk alcohol, but the governor could not confirm those reports.

Several U.S. and European security officials have said that last-minute intelligence reports about possible Olympics-related attacks continue to flow into Western agencies.

President Vladimir Putin has staked his political and personal prestige on the Sochi Games, intended to show how far Russia has come since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. A bombing, hijacking or hostage crisis would seriously threaten those ambitions.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Evrim Ergin; Writing by Daren Butler and Nick Tattersall; Editing by Dasha Afanasieva and Sonya Hepinstall)


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