A Ukrainian citizen claiming to have smuggled a bomb aboard an Istanbul-bound plane belonging to Turkish carrier Pegasus Airlines was apprehended Friday after attempting to divert it to Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympics are kicking off, a Turkish official said.
Habib Soluk, undersecretary of Turkey's Transport Ministry, told private NTV television that the plane, from the city of Kharkov in Ukraine — a country currently mired in political crisis — landed safely at Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Istanbul. An F-16 fighter plane scrambled to intercept the aircraft before it landed, NTV reported.
The alleged hijacker was seized, and none of the 110 passengers aboard appeared to be hurt, a transportation official said.
Citing the Ukrainian Security Service, Russia's Interfax news agency reported that the suspect was in a state of severe alcohol intoxication, and that no weapons or explosives were found on him. However, the security service did not name a source.
The alleged hijacker was unable to enter the cockpit, and the cabin crew managed to convince him that the plane was indeed heading to Sochi, before it was eventually able to land in Istanbul, Al Jazeera's Isil Sariyuce reported.
"The man was made to believe the plane was heading to Sochi," Soluk said.
Ukraine has experienced a polarizing political crisis in recent months, with the country's faltering economy a key issue. Troubles began in November when President Viktor Yanukovich shelved an agreement to strengthen economic ties with the European Union in favor of a $15 billion loan from Russia. Many Ukrainians, who resent the long shadow that Russia casts over their country, a former Soviet republic, took to the capital, Kiev, in protest.
The crisis took a deadly turn after Yanukovich temporarily outlawed protests and ordered forces to dismantle protest camps. The protests have since expanded, and participants are now calling for Yanukovich's resignation.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press