February 15, 2007 / 7:08 PM / 13 years ago

Hijacker of Mauritanian plane arrested in Canaries

LAS PALMAS, Spain (Reuters) - Passengers overpowered a suspected armed hijacker who had commandeered a Mauritanian plane on Thursday when he was knocked off his feet during a hard landing, a source close to the Mauritanian presidency said.

Spanish security forces surround a hijacked Air Mauritania Boeing 737 passenger plane after it landed at Gando airport in Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria in Spain's Canary Islands February 15, 2007. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

The Air Mauritania Boeing 737 was on an internal flight in Mauritania when the hijacker, armed with pistols, demanded to be flown to France, officials said. The pilot landed in Spain’s Canary Islands instead, where Spanish police arrested the man.

“When the pilot landed he deliberately braked very hard. The man fell to the ground and was jumped on by passengers. He fired two bullets but there are no serious injuries,” the Mauritanian source told Reuters.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish emergency services said 20 people suffered minor cuts and bruises but added she knew of nobody being injured by gunfire, as one emergency services source had reported earlier.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said security forces arrested the hijacker and freed all 71 passengers and eight crew after the plane touched down at Gando airport on the island of Gran Canaria. Media reported the hijacker was North African.

Air Mauritania’s Director General Mohamed Ould El Moctar said the crew told him nobody was hurt and that the hijacker had acted alone.

“The lone hijacker was armed with two pistols but it is not clear whether these were real or not,” he told Al Jazeera television.

ATTACK TIMING

The hijacking came on same day that Spain began the trial of 29 people, mostly Moroccans, for the 2004 Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people, and days after al Qaeda called for attacks on Mauritania’s rulers.

In an audio message quoted by Arab media this week, al Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri said Muslims should attack Mauritania’s leaders for recognizing Israel.

“I call especially on our people in Mauritania ... to take a sincere jihadi stand against treacherous rulers who recognized Israel and betrayed the Islamic nation,” Zawahri said.

Jose Segura, a Spanish government representative in the Canary Islands, told national radio he could not confirm or deny talk of gunshots.

“Fortunately the hijacking incident has ended favorably,” Segura said. He said the hijacker gave himself up and police had not stormed the plane.

The plane was hijacked while on its way to the northern Mauritanian port of Nouadhibou from the capital Nouakchott and stopped for fuel in Morocco’s Western Sahara after being seized.

It then flew on to Las Palmas in the Spanish Canary Islands.

The plane had been originally scheduled to fly from Nouadhibou to the Canaries.

Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat in Dubai and Nick Tattersall in Dakar

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