February 8, 2014 - 10:47 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - A passenger announced Friday, Feb 7 "that there was a bomb on board" his plane and wanted it diverted to Sochi -- the Russian city hosting the Winter Olympics amid terrorism fears -- Turkish officials said, according to CNN.
Rather than abide by the request, the Pegasus Airlines' crew sent a hijacking alert that Turkey's Air Force Control Center received at 5:20 p.m. (10:20 a.m. ET), Turkey's semiofficial Anadolu news agency reported.
About 20 minutes later, the same report claimed two F-16 fighter jets scrambled to intercept the Boeing 737-800 and escort it over the Black Sea.
Eventually, the airliner landed safely at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport, where video shot soon thereafter showed police and security officials converging on it.
Istanbul's governor tweeted around 10 p.m. that "the air pirate has been neutralized" and all other passengers "disembarked from the plane without any problems." Special forces who boarded the plane took him into custody "in a swift operation" without finding a "bomb on him," Gov. Huseyin Avni Mutlu later told reporters.
"The operation is complete," the governor said.
Mutlu said that the suspect -- who never made it into the cockpit and at one point apparently thought the aircraft was destined for Sochi -- "didn't seem to have consumed alcohol, (but) he may have used some other substances." He'd brought a carry-on bag with personal electronics and other items onto the Pegasus plane, according to the governor.
The incident came at a tense time given the various threats surrounding the Winter Games, which kicked off in earnest Friday night with its opening ceremony.
Russian security forces have cracked down in recent weeks on suspected militants in the restive North Caucasus republic of Dagestan -- which is located on the other side of the Caucasus Mountains from Sochi -- and elsewhere in recent weeks after twin suicide bombings in the city of Volgograd in December.
There have also been concerns specifically about explosives-laden airlines. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul said Wednesday night that the his nation's Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin to airlines flying into Russia warning that explosive materials could be concealed in toothpaste or cosmetic tubes.
The flight started in Kharkov in Ukraine, and was headed to Istanbul, according to the Transportation Ministry. The Ukrainian foreign ministry issued a statement identifying the suspect as one of its citizens.