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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 21:22 GMT 22:22 UK
Turkish jet hijacker surrenders
The hijacked plane at Brindisi
Passengers aboard the plane managed to phone out on mobiles
A man who hijacked a Turkish Airways plane flying from Tirana to Istanbul has surrendered after the Boeing 737 landed at Brindisi in southern Italy.

First reports suggested there were two hijackers, protesting against the Pope, but the one man now in custody is a Turkish army deserter seeking asylum.

Italian police are checking reports that he may have had an accomplice.

All the plane's 107 passengers - including beauty contest entrants - and six crew are said to be unhurt.

We saw a man wearing track-suit bottoms and a hat go to the cockpit door and pause there, thinking
Ermir Hoxha
Passenger, speaking by mobile phone from plane

Greek, then Italian fighters, were scrambled to intercept and escort the airliner after reports of the incident emerged while it was in Greek air space at 1758 (1458 GMT).

Two Italian F-16s reportedly forced the plane to land in Brindisi where the hijacker, named as Hakan Ekinci, surrendered after negotiations with police.

Initial reports suggested that two hijackers had wanted to deliver a message to Pope Benedict, angry at his recent comments in a lecture in Germany which appeared to link Islam and violence.

The pontiff is due to visit Turkey in November.

Army deserter

Hakan Ekinci is a conscientious objector who had run away to Albania during military service in the Turkish army, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports.

Hakan Ekinci (police photo)
Hakan Ekinci faced arrest in Istanbul

He was seeking political asylum there, saying he had converted to Christianity eight years ago and could no longer be forced to serve in a Muslim army.

He charted his efforts to gain asylum in letters to a well-known Turkish pacifist group on the internet.

According to his most recent letter posted last month, he believed his application for asylum had been refused and he was about to be forced to return home.

There is another letter from the same Hakan Ekinci on the Internet - this one an address to Pope Benedict, our correspondent adds.

In it the soldier pleads with the Pope for help with his asylum claim as a Christian.

Again he says he has been forced to join the army against his will and claims he was imprisoned and ill-treated for refusing.

BBC map

The Turkish foreign ministry confirmed for the BBC that the hijacker, who is 28, was on the run from the army.

Separately, Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler said that Mr Ekinci had faced arrest and transfer to the military authorities on arrival in Istanbul.

Mr Guler added that Mr Ekinci may bluffed the airliner's pilot into believing he had at least one accomplice on the plane,

'Track-suit man'

Ergun Ozkeseoglu, a passenger who phoned Turkish NTV television from the plane, said the hijacker had waved and apologised to applauding passengers as he left the plane.

Kanksha Mehta, Miss India (photo by permission of Globe International 2006)
Miss India is among four beauty queens on the plane

He had seen no weapons but had noticed a passenger repeatedly entering the cockpit and "and giving orders to the stewards".

One Albanian passenger told Albanian TV that nobody had been informed of the hijacking.

Ermir Hoxha, a journalist who was also aboard, described one of the suspected hijackers for his television channel, Albania's Top-Channel TV. He said he had not seen any weapon.

"We gathered something was amiss when we saw a man wearing track-suit bottoms and a hat go to the cockpit door and pause there, thinking," he said.

Contestants in an international beauty pageant, Globe International 2006, were among the passengers, according to the Albanian event's press spokesman.

Miss India, Miss Singapore, Miss Malaysia and Miss Philippines were on the flight, the spokesman told the BBC's Asian Network.

The plane on the ground at the airport in Brindisi

Country profile: Turkey
26 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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