Two unidentified individuals hijacked a Turkish passenger airliner flying from northern Cyprus to Istanbul Saturday. The hijackers stated that they were carrying a bomb on board the plane.
The hijackers demanded the plane be diverted to Iran but the pilots landed the plane at Antalya airport in Turkey, saying they needed to refuel, said Tuncay Doganer, CEO of the private Atlas-Jet airline company. According to some of the passengers the hijackers also demanded to be flown to Syria.
Most of the passengers managed to escape from the rear exit of the plane while the hijackers were releasing women and children from the front exit, passengers who left the aircraft told private NTV television. Some sustained injuries during the escape, Doganer said.
At least two passengers claimed that the hijackers were members of al-Qaida terrorist network, but others said they had not heard the hijackers say that.
Doganer said two crew members and four passengers were left on board.
Aydin Kiziltan, CEO of Worldfocus, which owns the plane and had leased it to Atlas-Jet, said the pilots had also left the aircraft to prevent the hijackers from forcing them to fly the plane.
One passenger who was not identified said anti-terror teams had surrounded the plane.
CNN-Turk television said the hijacker were making demands for a new pilot to fly them to "any country in the Middle East."
Passengers said there were two hijackers on board and that they spoke Arabic between themselves. Doganer would not reveal the identity or nationality of the hijackers.
Doganer said there were 136 passengers on board when the plane left Ercan airport in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus at 6:45 a.m. (0345 GMT). The plane landed at Antalya airport about an hour later.
One passenger, Erhan Erkul, told NTV television that the hijackers ran toward the cockpit shortly after takeoff, tried to break down the door but failed.
"They claimed to have bombs," Erkul said.
Erkul said the hijackers were from al-Qaida, but another passenger said the hijackers did not make any announcement about who they were.
A woman, who was not identified, said the hijackers allowed the crew to serve water to the passengers and promised not to harm them.
"We are Muslims," passengers quoted one of the hijackers as saying.
The hijackers allowed one of the gates on the side of the plane to be opened for fresh air after the air conditioning was switched off and some passengers fainted. The hijackers later freed the women and children, ordering the men to sit down, said a female passenger.
But some of the men also jumped out and others men broke the rear door and escaped, the passenger said.
The pilots communicated with the hijackers through a telephone outside the cockpit cabin.
The remarks from the Pope came as "a very strong step towards degradation," "given the rather massive nature of homosexuality" among the Catholic clergy.