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Hijacked Turkish plane lands in Italy

Associated Press/MARIA SANMINIATELLI | October 3 2006

ROME - A Turkish Airlines plane carrying 113 people from Albania to Istanbul landed in Italy on Tuesday after being hijac ked by two Turks protesting the pope's planned visit to Turkey next month, officials said.

The Boeing 737-400 landed in Brindisi, Italy, and the hijackers told authorities they were prepared to surrender, said Candan Karlitekin, chairman of Turkish Airlines' board of directors. He said no one aboard the plane was injured.

Salvatore Sciacchitano, deputy director of the ENAC civil aviation agency, told Sky Italia that negotiations were under way for the release of passengers.

Turkish Airlines officials had spoken to Capt. Mursel Gokalp and co-pilot Yavuz Yilmaz, who told them the hijackers were not armed and that the passengers were not in any danger, said Ali Genc, a spokesman for the carrier.

"We expect the action to end soon," Genc said.

Private Turkish television NTV said the hijackers wanted to make a protest statement about Benedict.

Karlitekin added that the hijackers declared that the would surrender "the moment they hijacked the plane," which was flying from the Albanian capital of Tirana to Istanbul with 107 passengers and a crew of six. Most of the passengers were Albanians, Genc said.

The Turkish captain issued an alert that his plane was hijacked and he was contacted by Greek air traffic controllers at 5:55 p.m. (10:55 a.m. EDT), 15 miles north of Thessaloniki, Greece, said Dimitris Stavropoulos, spokesman for Greece's Civil Aviation Authority.

The captain told the Greek controllers: "I have two undesirable people who want to go to Italy to see the pope and give him a message," according to Stavropoulos.

The plane later contacted Italian air traffic controllers and asked to land in Brindisi, a southern city on the Adriatic coast, and it was escorted to the ground by two Italian military jets, according to Nicoletta Tomiselli, a spokeswoman for the Italian air traffic agency ENAV.

Karlitekin said the jet was hijacked to protest Benedict's planned visit to Turkey next month.

Benedict angered the Muslim world in a speech in Germany on Sept. 12, when he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Benedict has expressed regret for offending Muslims by his remarks and said they did not reflect his personal views, but he has not offered a complete apology as some had sought.



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