Details revealed how Turkish crew tricked Ukrainian hijacker
A Ukrainian man who attempted to hijack an airliner to Sochi is escorted by police after the plane was forced down on Feb 7 at Sabiha Gökçen Airport in Istanbul. AFP photoA Ukrainian man’s attempt to hijack a Turkey-bound plane and divert it to Sochi on Feb. 7 has highlighted the threat of an attack on the Winter Games in the Russian town, although new details of the drama reveal that it was mainly the airline’s crew, and not merely security forces, that successfully prevented any casualties.
The hijacker, identified as 44-year-old Artem Kozlov, revealed himself a few minutes after the Pegasus aircraft took off. According to witnesses’ accounts, he stood up in the cabin from where he was sitting in the front row and brandished a cellular phone, saying it would detonate a bomb placed in the cargo area. He subsequently attempted to gain access to the cockpit, demanding the pilots divert the Kharkiv-Istanbul plane to Sochi.
The crew, however, managed to trick Kozlov into believing they were headed for the Russian city while informing Turkish authorities about the incident. To further calm the hijacker, the crew made an announcement saying the “plane would land in Sochi due to a technical problem.” The hijacker then asked for a blanket and returned to his seat in the second row. He was reportedly led to believe that the plane was landing in Sochi even as it arrived at its destination at Sabiha Gökçen Airport.
The plane was escorted to its destination by Turkish F-16 jets that had been scrambled after the pilots informed ground control about the hijacking attempt.
Release of protesters
Kozlov, who was pictured wearing a Saku Koivu Montreal Canadiens’ hockey jersey, told anti-terrorist police during his first interrogation that he intended to request the release of dozens of demonstrators, including former Prime Ministwer Yulia Timoshenko, detained during anti-government protests in Ukraine. Reports said he conducted his actions in response to the stance of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the violence in Ukraine, vituperating the pair while claiming their hands were “drenched in blood.”
But one official in Kyiv played down the incident, describing the hijacker’s spirits as being “in an advanced state of drunkenness.”
Once the plane landed in Turkey, special teams unit launched negotiations with Kozlov while they examined the cargo compartment for explosives. Special teams used a jammer as a precaution before entering the cabin area even though no explosives were found in the hold.
According to some news reports, the Ukrainian hijacker shouted “I love Turkey” as special forces entered the plane. He was immediately taken into custody for interrogation.
Kozlov also said he did not select the Turkish plane for any specific reason, adding that it was the first plane departing from Kharkiv at the time he purchased the tickets.
After his first testimony, Turkish Transport Minister Lütfi Elvan on Feb. 8 said authorities were satisfied it was not part of a wider terrorist conspiracy. “This was not something very serious. It was an act of a single individual,” he said.
Kozlov has a criminal record in Ukraine for armed robbery and “hooliganism,” Turkish authorities revealed Feb. 10. He has been charge by Turkish prosecutors with “hijacking” and “deprivation of liberty.”
Ukraine has launched its own terror probe into the incident.