A Libyan aircraft with 118 people on board has been hijacked by a man claiming to have a hand grenade, media in Malta reported.
The hijacker told the crew he was “pro-Gaddafi” and that he was willing to let all 111 passengers leave the Airbus A320, but not its seven crew, if his demands were met, the Times of Malta said.
It was unclear what the demands were or whether the hijacker was acting alone.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising in 2011, and the country has been racked by factional violence since.
Libya’s UN-backed government confirmed the hijacking and its forced diversion to Malta, Libya’s state news agency LANA reported.
All passengers aboard the plane were in good health, an unnamed official at the Libyan foreign ministry told the agency.
“[Libyan] Foreign Minister Mohammed Sayala has immediately started intense contacts with his Maltese counterpart and the government there,” the official added.
Security personnel took up positions a few hundred metres from the plane as it stood on the tarmac and no one was seen boarding or leaving it.
The aircraft’s engines were still running 45 minutes after it landed in late morning, the Times of Malta said. All other flights at Malta International Airport were cancelled or diverted, it said.
The aircraft had been flying from Sebha in south-west Libya to Tripoli for state-owned Afriqiyah Airways, a route that would usually take a little over two hours.
The tiny Mediterranean island of Malta is about 500km north of the Libyan coast.
The island’s prime minister said in a tweet on Friday that he had been alerted to the “potential hijack” of the plane.
Prime Minister Muscat later tweeted that the passengers on board the plane included 82 men, 28 women and one infant.
The pilot of an Afriqiyah Airways plane that was due to land at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport told the control tower there that the aircraft had been hijacked, a senior security official at the airport said.
“The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,” the official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused.”
Large numbers of security officials could be seen at Mitiga airport after news of the hijacking.