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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Nab Hijacker At Airport

Commandos overpowered a man at Sheremetyevo Airport on Wednesday who had rigged himself with a mock explosive device and tried to hijack a Russian internal passenger flight.

The hijacker, identified by Interfax as Gennady Todikov, 59, had contacted cabin crew and threatened to detonate the device about two hours before the Ilyushin-62 landed in Moscow en route from Magadan in the Far East.

Todikov was disarmed and all 148 passengers on board were released unharmed less than an hour after landing at Sheremetyevo-1 Airport. Many said they had not even been aware that a hijacking was underway.

Television news said Todikov had passed a letter to the crew as the plane approached Moscow, at about 9 a.m., demanding $10 million and safe passage to Switzerland.

Todikov said in the letter that he was wired with explosives and had two accomplices aboard the aircraft also carrying explosives that would be detonated if any attempt was made to disarm them.

After circling above Moscow for an hour, the plane landed at around 11:30 a.m. Moscow time. Shortly afterwards, the hijacker released 48 passengers who were immediately escorted to an airport building for debriefing by security agents.

An hour later, Todikov was grabbed by a unit from the elite anti-terrorist Alpha squad after he was persuaded to leave the plane to talk with officials.

Shortly before the unit moved in, several men in plain clothes arrived at the airport in an armored vehicle with large bags. Television reports said the bags contained money. Scores of Interior Ministry troops and police ringed the airport, and a fleet of ambulances stood by.

There was no shooting during the operation, a State Duma deputy for the Magadan region, Vladimir Butkeyev, told reporters after the incident. He said Todikov was not carrying any explosives but he had rigged an imitation bomb on his person. Television showed pictures of a small black box with red wires sticking out.

Although Todikov appears to have acted alone, detectives questioned all the passengers to rule out the possibility of any accomplices.

"The main thing is that all the passengers are alive and well. For them, at least, everything ended happily," said Butkeyev.

Official charges of terrorism will be brought against Todikov in 10 days. Speaking on Russian television after his arrest, Todikov said he had hijacked the plane after receiving no reply to letters he wrote to President Boris Yeltsin and the government requesting that he be allowed to emigrate. Todikov's statement is strange in that Russia has dropped almost all Soviet-era restrictions on people leaving the country.

Three hours after they were freed, a stream of tired passengers appeared and collected their baggage before leaving the airport. Most said they had not been aware of any danger and only learned of the hijacking after they left the plane.

"No one where I was sitting saw any terrorists, there were no threats, everything was absolutely normal until the end of the flight," said conscript Vasily Murtazin, still in uniform after being demobilized from his army unit in Magadan. "The plane landed and then we waited about an hour. It was stuffy and difficult to breathe."

Some were told they were being held up because no steps were available for the plane.

"We suspected nothing until someone pointed out something must be wrong because of the amount of people waiting for us on the runway," said passenger Valentina Akroshenko. "We waited about 20 or 25 minutes and then people started getting indignant," she said.

"There was no panic. There would have been a different atmosphere if we had still been on the plane, but since we were already out on the ground when we were told we had been hijacked people were laughing and joking."

At a news briefing Wednesday, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin was pleased that the situation "had been settled fairly quickly and, most importantly, without bloodshed."

The incident was the first airplane hijacking in Russia since 1995 when two unemployed men who seized an airliner with 184 people aboard. Both were overpowered by Russian police without loss of life.