Turkey: Pope safe despite hijack

Iran Materials 4 October 2006 16:05 (UTC +04:00)

(Associated Press) Turkish officials gave assurances Wednesday that all necessary security measures would be taken during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey next month, after an unarmed Turkish man hijacked a plane, saying he wanted to get a message to the pontiff.

The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-400, with 113 people aboard was reported hijacked over Greek airspace Tuesday evening on a flight from Tirana, Albania, to Istanbul, Turkey, and landed in the southern Italian Adriatic port city of Brindisi after Italian air force fighter pilots scrambled to escort the aircraft through Italian air space.

Italian Minister Giuliano Amato told lawmakers in Rome on Wednesday that the man wanted to deliver a message for Pope Benedict XVI, but was not carrying a written letter for the pontiff, reports Trend.

"The reason he insisted on landing in Rome or in Brindisi (Italy), was to get a missive to the pope," Amato said, adding the man claimed to fear for his safety because he converted to Christianity.

The hijacker slipped into the cockpit when flight attendants opened the cockpit door, said Amato, whose ministry is responsible for state police and civilian intelligence services.

The man handed the pilot a note, claiming that he had a message for the pope and that other hijackers aboard another, unspecified plane "would blow that plane up if the missive didn't get to the pope," Amato said.

Amato said the incident showed "the fragility" of the Turkish airline security.

"We all have in mind the pope's visit to Turkey in the coming weeks," Amato said, a pilgrimage which will "present delicate security problems."

But the minister said that he didn't think the hijacking in itself had increased the security threat level during the pope's planned visit in late November.

"We're taking all necessary security measures for the pope's visit," Turkey's ambassador to Italy, Ugur Ziyal, told Turkey's state-owned news agency Anatolia.

"I don't think there are particular risks but we all know what terrorist can do," the ambassador said.

"That's why we are taking necessary measures for the safety of the pope," Ziyal said without elaborating. However, "there are no special risks for Benedict XVI. The pope will be welcomed warmly."