Officials credit police, passengers with stopping attempted hijacking

11/02/2014

A Ukrainian man is charged with attempting to hijack a flight bound for Turkey to Sochi, Russia.

By Alakbar Raufoglu for Southeast European Times -- 11/02/14

photo

Artem Hozlov of Ukraine is escorted by police February 7th in Istanbul after he was arrested for attempting to hijack a jet from Ukraine to Sochi where the Winter Olympics opening ceremony was under way. The Ukrainian man, brandishing what he said was a detonator, tried to gain access to the cockpit of the aircraft operated by Turkey's Pegasus Airlines with 110 people on board, officials said. [AFP]

As an Istanbul court on Sunday formally charged a Ukrainian man over his failed attempt to hijack a Turkey-bound flight to Sochi, Russia, analysts and officials drew the attention to the response of security forces and the airline's crew that successfully prevented any casualties.

Artem Hozlov, identified by Turkish officials as the suspect who attempted to hijack the Kharkiv-Istanbul flight with the threat of a bomb, demanded to be diverted to Sochi on Friday evening (February 7th), where the Winter Olympics were opening.

The pilot tricked him and landed in Istanbul instead, as two Turkish F-16 jets forced the airliner with 110 people on board down at Sabiha Gokcen airport, where the hijacker was subdued by security officers who sneaked on board.

"It is important that this operation was handled very rapidly, as such a threat was aiming at putting a dark shadow on the Sochi Olympics," Suleyman Ozeren, director of the Ankara-based International Centre for Terrorism and Transnational Crime, under the Department of Research Centres of the Police Academy, told SETimes.

The attempt had "nothing to do with Turkey," he said. "It is most likely connected to the Ukrainian uprising and the purpose was to attract international attention to it."

In the past, Turkey has responded harshly and successfully to such threats.

Ozeren said Turkish police are "capable of taking control over and overcoming such incidents."

Speaking about the security forces' operation, Ozeren said it is important to have "rapid effective co-ordination" to thwart against hijacking attempts while lowering the risks and ensure the least possible human losses during such operations.

"It is also vital to indicate if the hijacker was operating on his own or had outside support," he said.

Kenan Erturk, head of the terrorism research centre at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, an Istanbul-based think tank, agreed that in these types of attempts the security personnel should particularly pay attention whether any particular terror group is behind the hijacker, "whether they had similar attacks before, and what their tactic was."

Speaking to SETimes, he said, the security forces reacted to the latest incident "according to the case specifics."

"If, for example, the hijacker would say that he belongs to al-Qaeda, the Turkish police's approach would be totally different," he told SETimes. "We called [the latest] operation a soft operation, based on the claims of the passengers that the hijacker had a bomb and was going to detonate it."

Erturk added said that passengers on the flight played an important role in ending the incident peacefully.

"It sounds like in this case they were very helpful in the operation," he said. "The most important task was to avoid victims among innocent people."

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Speaking to SETimes, one of the passengers, Salim Sheykhzaman, mentioned that although the hijacker was acting alone, he "was able to scare everyone on board."

"I was the only Russian language speaker on the plane and we all were trying to convince the suspect, even offered him coffee, to calm down and not to damage anyone, as the plane was supposedly landing in Sochi," he said.

After the negotiation with the security forces, Hozlov agreed to the evacuation of passengers. Afterward, the special police sneaked on board and overpowered the suspect, who was slightly injured during the attack, according to the witness.

Does the attempted hijacking make you more or less likely to fly during the Olympics? Why? Add your thoughts in the comment area below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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