Bus hijackers issue morning ultimatum

A bus hijacking on the eastern fringes of Athens was poised on a knife-edge last night as one of the two men who seized the vehicle threatened to blow it up this morning along with the six remaining hostages on board, unless demands for a 1-million-euro ransom and safe passage out of Greece were met. «I will wait until 8 in the morning, when the banks open, and they bring me the driver and money. If they don’t, I will light the fuse. I will not let any more people go,» the hijacker, identifying himself as Hassan, told Alter television station, speaking on one of the hostages’ cell phones. Soon after making his demand, officers said shots were fired from the bus in the direction of police snipers. No injuries were immediately reported. The two hijackers are thought to be Albanians and armed with shotguns and explosives. They boarded the Marathon-to-Athens KTEL bus just before 6 a.m. in Pikermi, and shortly afterward started shooting at the vehicle’s ceiling. The driver immediately brought the vehicle to a halt on Marathonos Avenue in the eastern suburb of Gerakas and ran off with the keys. The ticket inspector and a female passenger also managed to escape but 23 passengers were left on board. Armed police rushed to the scene, cordoning off the area and surrounding the bus with other vehicles. There were some intermittent shots fired from the bus initially but a tense stalemate soon developed. The hijackers initially demanded a new bus driver, saying they wanted to be taken to the airport and flown to Russia, but later said they just wanted to leave the country without mentioning a specific destination. After negotiations with police, the hijackers released the first hostage at 11.10 a.m. and a steady trickle then followed. By evening, 17 passengers – mostly Greeks, as well as Albanian, Bulgarian, Polish, Afghan and Indian nationals – had been released. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis postponed his trip to Brussels for the EU leaders’ summit until today to help deal with the crisis. As night fell, portable generators powering mobile police command centers at the scene were fired up. The operation was being controlled by a command council at the Public Order Ministry, under the leadership of Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis. Another crisis committee made up of top police commanders and ministry officials was set up at Attica Police headquarters. The system is a leftover of the Olympic security umbrella.