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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 12:46 GMT
Olympic training helped end siege
Remaining hostages leave hijacked bus in Athens
The hostages say they had started to put pressure on their captors
Anti-terrorist training received by Greek police ahead of this year's Olympic Games helped resolve the Athens bus hijacking, the government has said.

The 18-hour drama ended peacefully early on Thursday, when the two armed Albanian hijackers freed the last six of the 23 people taken hostage.

The two men, who gave themselves up, had threatened to blow up the bus if a 1m euro ransom (700,000) was not paid.

Police say the men, now in custody, had had no explosives, but did have guns.

As it turned out, the bag was filled with croissants, cigarettes, anything but explosives. How could they blow up the bus?
Stella Mataro

"They said they had explosives to try to show us that they could do serious harm," said Police Chief Giorgos Angelakos.

He added that the two men, named as Gaz Resuli and Leonard Murati, both 24, had asked for a plane to Russia to create a smoke screen, when in fact they wanted money and passage to Albania.

Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis was full of praise for the police.

"The experience we gathered during the Olympic Games was not wasted," he said.

"The calm co-ordination, determination and professionalism of the Greek police allowed for this to result in a positive conclusion, with no casualties on either side and mainly without violence."

Two previous bus hijackings by Albanian gunmen in 1999 ended in bloodshed with the police storming the vehicles

'Vulnerable'

As well their training experience of such situations, the police also made use of the multi-million euro C41 security communications system acquired by Greece for the Olympic Games.

Even the driver, who fled with the ignition keys when the drama unfolded, had acted in accordance with anti-terror training he received before the games.

The crisis began at about 0600 (0400 GMT) on Wednesday after the men boarded the bus in the suburb of Pikermi.

Sniper near the hijacked bus
Police snipers and vehicles had surrounded the bus
They closed curtains and fired shots through the roof, stopping the bus outside the Moratone nightclub in another suburb, Gerakas.

But the bus driver, the ticket collector and a female passenger immediately escaped from the bus and the vehicle was cordoned off by armed police.

The hostage-takers then issued a series of shifting demands, though reporters say there were no apparent political motives for the hijacking.

Stella Matara, one of the last hostages to be released at about 0045 (2245 GMT Wednesday), said the two men were "vulnerable". She said that once the passengers realised the explosives claim was a bluff, they started to pressure their captors.

"We told them that you already proved you are good people, release another hostage," Reuters quoted her as saying.

"As it turned out, the bag was filled with croissants, cigarettes, anything but explosives. How could they blow up the bus?

"Then they talked to their next of kin, and realised that everything was over. Their identity was known, so they decided to give themselves up."

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis delayed his departure for an EU summit in Brussels because of the crisis.




SEE ALSO:
Greek police kill bus hijacker
16 Jul 99 |  Europe
Two killed in bus ambush
29 May 99 |  Europe


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