MEXICO CITY — Mexican security forces successfully cleared a hijacked commercial airliner carrying 104 passengers. According to the earliest CNN and other news reports, as many as five individuals had been detained. It now appears that there was only one hijacker.
PoliceOne has learned through our partnership with Stratfor, a private intelligence company that tracks terrorism and security matters around the globe, that as many as eight suspects surrendered without a struggle. Strafor says that it is “doubtful that all eight actually took part in the attempted hijacking, but authorities probably detained additional suspects for questioning to make sure they were not involved.”
Transportation and Communications Secretary Juan Molinar said in a mid-day news conference that there was no bomb on the airplane, although some passengers said one of the hijackers held a package that resembled an explosive device.
Aeromexico Flight 576 had been hijacked in the Mexican resort of Cancun on Wednesday morning, then flown to Mexico City's international airport. There, the plane sat on the tarmac, while flights from the airport were reportedly grounded. Helicopters and armored vehicles could be seen landing and approaching the jetliner.
According to early reports from TV Azteca, the hijackers “possibly Bolivians or Colombians” threatened to blow up the Boeing 737 if their demand to speak to Mexican President Felipe Calderon was not met. Calderon was reportedly at the airport preparing to depart when the incident began, leading him to cancel his planned flight, TV Azteca said.
CNN reported that “the abductors had begun to release passengers from the jet, which had been moved to a remote area of the airport.”
It is presently unclear whether the passengers were released by the terrorists or the security forces stormed the plane. At least one news source — ABC News — had indicated that a team outfitted in tactical gear had prepared for a rescue attempt and surrounded the plane.
Stratfor analysts indicated late today that the “motive and identity of the alleged hijackers is still not known, but the fact that the standoff ended relatively quickly and with no violence suggests that rather than a serious hijacking attempt by a criminal or militant group, this incident probably was intended as a publicity stunt by a group with a political agenda. The impact of this incident will be remarkably different if it is determined that the hijackers managed to breach security or smuggle a weapon onto the plane. At this point, however, this incident appears to be a relative non-event that will have little effect on the country’s security situation.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that “the presumed hijackers had not broached the cockpit” and that at least one of the alleged assailants was a “well-dressed Latin American man who appeared calm.”
Mexican Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna told a news conference late this afternoon that one of the hijackers was born in Bolivia who believed himself to be “on a divine mission.”
PoliceOne will continue to follow this event and provide additional updates as they become available.