EgyptAir Hijacking: Airport Security Questioned

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NICOSIA, March 29 – With all the security measures at modern airports, how could a hijacker overcome a passenger jet — possibly with explosives? The pilot of EgyptAir Flight MS181 said a passenger claimed to have an explosive belt, forcing the plane to land in Cyprus on Tuesday. 

It’s still not clear whether the passenger really had explosives on board. But the hijacking is the latest incident to raise concerns about security at Egypt’s airports. In October, a Russian airliner taking off from Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh airport crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. 

ISIS said its bomb destroyed Metrojet Flight 9268, saying it “discovered a way to compromise the security at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport” and smuggled a bomb on board. The terror group even published a photo of what it claimed to be the bomb that brought down Metrojet Flight 9268. 

The photograph shows a soft drink can and two components that appear to be a detonator and a switch, explosives expert Anthony May said. Because the can is made of metal, “any typical security protocol should detect this via the metal detectors or via the X-rays” in an airport, he said.

“However, it’s not unlikely or impossible to separate these components, and an individual carry a separate component through security and then assemble the device on the other side.” But Tuesday’s hijacking is different from the Metrojet attack, said Sajjan Goehl of the Asia-Pacific Foundation. 

“This incident doesn’t seem to be similar in any way. It seems to be more unique, more old-fashioned style of terrorism where hijackers make demands,” he said. In response to the Metrojet Flight 9268 disaster, Egypt promised it would beef up security at airports across the country. 

The airport in Alexandria, where the hijacked plane took off from Tuesday, also had boosted security, CNN’s Cairo correspondent Ian Lee said. “Traveling through that airport myself, there are layers, levels of security you have to go through before you are able to get to your plane,” he said. “There’s multiple times where they scan your luggage.” 

Goehl said the methods used by Tuesday’s hijacker may speak to the motive. He said that the fact that many of the passengers have been released is a very positive sign. Meanwhile, he also added that it’s possible that the motivations are more personal rather than ideological.

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