Hijacker Seizes Sudanese Plane, Surrenders in Chad

A hijacker seized a Sudanese Boeing 737 carrying 103 passengers and crew on Wednesday and forced the pilot at gunpoint to fly to the Chadian capital, where he surrendered, officials said.

Saif Omer, Air West airline's managing director, said the man walked out of the plane after it landed following a flight from Khartoum and said he wanted asylum in Britain. No one was injured, Omer said.

"The passengers were unaware that the plane had been hijacked," Omer told The Associated Press.

The hijacker entered the cockpit a half-hour after takeoff and put a pistol to the pilot's head, demanding to go to London, said Chad's infrastructure minister, Adoum Younousmi. When the captain told him there was not enough fuel, the hijacker agreed to land in Chad, where he surrendered.

He made no threats against the passengers, who were Sudanese except for a Briton and an Italian military attache.

Omer identified the hijacker as Mohamed Abdu Altif, 26, of El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state. The flight had been headed from Khartoum El Fasher.

"We don't know where the security breach occurred," said an Air West official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Khartoum-based Air West is one of 95 airlines barred from landing at European airports because of its safety record. It is a privately owned company operating domestic passenger services and international cargo charters.

The hijacking is likely to further complicate strained relations between Chad and Sudan. The neighboring countries trade accusations of supporting each other's rebels, who have mounted increasingly daring attacks on each side of the border.

The Chadian Embassy in Sudan, which reopened four months ago, said both countries were "fully cooperating" to resolve the incident.

"This is an isolated act of no political consequences," said Chadian Charge d'Affaires in Sudan, Abdut Abderrahman. "Authorities are fully cooperating to solve the incident."

The infrastructure minister, Younousmi, said the hijacker would be brought to trial.

"Chad is not a terrorist haven. He is a terrorist and we will take him to court," Younousmi said.

Sudanese officials did not immediately comment.

Chadian officials have said Khartoum backed rebels who twice threatened their capital last year, and recently said Sudan's air force had violated their air space.

Khartoum has grown increasingly frustrated with Chadian support for a leading coalition of Darfur rebels. The Darfur rebels met on the Chadian side of the border last week with U.S. special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios, who urged them to renew peace talks with the Sudanese government to end Darfur's conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the past four years.

"We call on Chadians to refrain from providing assistance to Sudanese rebel groups and honor the bilateral agreements we have signed," the Sudanese army spokesman said earlier this week.

Hundreds of thousands of Darfur's 2.5 million refugees have fled across the border to Chad, where they have increasingly come under attack.

Khartoum opposes a U.N. Security Council plan to send some 22,000 peacekeepers to Darfur. To prevent the general spillover of Darfur's conflict, the United Nations is contemplating sending peacekeepers in Chad and the Central African Republic to monitor the Sudanese border.

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Associated Press writers Alfred de Montesquiou and Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan, and Anthony Mitchell in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.


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