MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Bolivian-born man clutching a Bible and claiming a divine mission hijacked a plane in Mexico with more than 100 people aboard on Wednesday, but the incident ended quickly and without bloodshed.
Jose Flores, who told police he was a Protestant minister, seized the AeroMexico Boeing 737 after take off from the Caribbean resort of Cancun demanding to speak to Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Flores, 44, smuggled a false bomb on board and threatened to blow up the aircraft if he could not warn the president of what he said was an impending earthquake, police said.
“He said he is a minister and that it was a divine revelation that made him carry out this action,” Security Minister Genaro Garcia told reporters.
The plane landed safely in Mexico City, its original destination, and police stormed the aircraft after the passengers had been allowed off, but not the crew.
Police apparently detained Flores without a struggle and a few minutes later led him away in handcuffs, ending Mexico’s first hijack drama in years,
Transport Minister Juan Molinar told reporters that all 104 passengers and crew of 8 were safely off the aircraft. “There was no bomb,” he said.
Nine men were initially detained, but Security Minister Garcia said eight were ordinary passengers caught up in the drama. He said Flores, wearing a shirt and jeans, was the only hijacker.
Smiling and chewing gum, the hijacker was presented at a news conference but refused to answer journalists’ questions.
Earlier, security forces raced to Mexico City airport and helicopters circled above the airport as the plane landed and taxied to a part of the airport reserved for emergencies.
Some passengers said they were not aware of the hijack during the flight, although one man noticed Flores was carrying a Bible.
“We really didn’t know what was going on,” passenger Adriana Romero told Mexican television. “We realized it was a hijack when we saw the police trucks.”
Mexico has no major radical political groups who espouse violence, although Calderon is embroiled in a bitter war with drug cartels, whose turf wars have killed more than 13,000 people since he took power in late 2006 and set the army on them.
Direct attacks by drug gangs on the public or attempts to force talks with the government are very rare.
The last major hijack in Mexico was in 1972, when four men describing themselves as part of a group of armed communists seized an aircraft in the northern city of Monterrey and redirected it to Cuba.
In 1999, a flight leaving the capital for Monterrey returned after 40 minutes after a man threatened the pilot and said he had bombs in his belt, El Universal reported.
Cancun is Mexico’s top tourist destination and attracts millions of U.S. and European sunseekers every year to its white-sand beaches and luxury hotels.
Additional reporting by Eliana Aponte, Cyntia Barrera, Carlos Pacheco and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Anthony Boadle