Turkish hijack crisis ends at Athens airport

The hijacker of a Turkish passenger plane with over 200 passengers and crew will appear before a Greek magistrate today to answer charges of illegally commandeering an aircraft, infringing flight rules, endangering the lives of passengers and possessing a weapon. Twenty-year-old Ozgur Gencaslan, a car mechanic, was charged on Saturday by a prosecutor after being arrested just after 3 a.m. in Athens Airport. Gencaslan commandeered the Turkish Airlines Airbus-310 shortly after it left Istanbul for Ankara at 10.15 p.m. on Friday. The plane was carrying 194 passengers, including four Turkish MPs and a bank chief executive, and nine crew members. Gencaslan entered the cockpit where he threatened the co-pilot with a razor blade and showed the pilot a makeshift belt, on which he said he had strapped explosives, which turned out to be candles wrapped in paper. He demanded that the pilots fly the plane to Berlin, where he is believed to have relatives. On being told that the plane did not have enough fuel for the trip, Gencaslan agreed to a refueling stop at Athens. As the plane approached Athens, Greek authorities, fearing the worst, declared they would not allow the plane to land and then, after giving it permission to land, said that they would send it straight to Germany. Even though Greek police forces had recently taken part in an exercise for such an eventuality, as part of their preparations for the 2004 Olympics, local authorities appeared reluctant to handle the crisis. Even Foreign Minister George Papandreou was allegedly involved, trying, and failing, according to TV reports, to persuade his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, to allow the plane to land in Berlin. Communication through passengers’ cell phones showed that there was only one hijacker. After three hours of negotiations with the police and Turkish authorities, Gencaslan agreed to release the passengers. He did not resist the police who stormed the plane at 3.10 a.m. on Saturday. Turkey has asked for his extradition.

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