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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqis Free Hostages At London Airport

STANSTED, England -- Armed Iraqis who hijacked a Sudanese aircraft carrying 199 passengers and crew on Tuesday released all their hostages at Stansted airport near London.


Police said the hijack drama ended peacefully and six of the hostage takers had been arrested. Police officers boarded the plane to make a thorough search.


"Six men have been arrested. It may well be that there may be others involved," said police chief John Burrow. "We understand that they are Iraqi nationals. There may have been up to eight."


Burrow told a news conference the hostage takers had apparently been seeking political asylum.


Hundreds of armed police were deployed at Stansted airport, where the Sudanese Airways Airbus, originally routed from Khartoum to Amman, landed in the early hours after being forced to divert to Cyprus for refueling. At Larnaca the hijackers had at one point threatened to blow up the jet.


Some police stood as close as 50 meters from the aircraft, while dozens of police vans waited about two kilometers across the runway along with firefighters and ambulances.


Meanwhile, negotiations were conducted by radio after an Iraqi exile group said the hostage-takers wanted to contact one of its members.


The hijackers, who said they want to seek asylum in Britain, were believed to have been armed with grenades and possibly other explosives, according to police.


An official at the Iraqi Community Association said they believed the hijackers were trying to contact an Iraqi named Sadik Sadah.


Sadah is a former member of the association's executive committee who now works as a volunteer. It was unclear whether he made contact with the hijackers.


Police were unable to comment on speculation that the Iraqis were Khartoum-based diplomats who were seeking to defect rather than return to Baghdad.


The plane was hijacked Monday evening soon after it left Khartoum for the Jordanian capital Amman.


The hijackers started to release captives about two hours after the Airbus 310 airliner arrived at Stansted.


Police said the passengers who disembarked, led by the elderly and mothers with small children, were very calm despite their ordeal. Two sick passengers were taken away in ambulances, but police said their illnesses were not related to their treatment by the hijackers.


Sanctions imposed on the government of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein mean international flights do not land in Baghdad. Travelers fly to Amman and proceed overland.


Members of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's family defected to Jordan last year. Iraqi news media reported in February that the two top-level defectors, who were Saddam's sons-in-law, were murdered by relatives days after returning home to a pardon from the Iraqi leader.


During the Cyprus stop, the hijackers told police they wanted to claim political asylum in Britain and would release the passengers once they landed in London.