Albanian prisoner releases hostages, drops escape bid

ATHENS Sun Mar 17, 2013 4:20pm EDT

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ATHENS (Reuters) - An Albanian criminal who has already used a helicopter to stage two prison breaks in Greece has failed in his third escape bid, releasing five prison guards he had held hostage for nearly 24 hours, police said on Sunday.

Alket Rijai, serving prison sentences for robbery and murder, had barricaded himself with two accomplices and their hostages into part of the Malandrino jail in central Greece.

"Rijai bluffed he had C4 explosives on him and was threatening to blow everything up if he and his accomplices weren't allowed to leave," a police official said.

Special police forces and sharpshooters had surrounded the jail as negotiations went on since late Saturday.

Rijai gave himself up at about 1830 GMT after falling tired and realizing he had no hope of escaping, the official said. "All the hostages were released and are well," police said in an SMS statement.

Rijai has already embarrassed the authorities with two headline-grabbing prison breaks in 2006 and 2009 - using a helicopter in both escapes.

In 2009, a helicopter flew over a high-security prison in Athens, lowered a ladder and whisked him and an accomplice off the roof as guards looked on. The helicopter pilot later said he had been hijacked.

He was arrested a few months after his second escape while sleeping in a hideout in a village northeast of Athens.

(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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