All Safe After Mexican Hijacking
MEXICO CITY - A lone man claiming to be a preacher briefly hijacked a Mexican passenger jet Wednesday, causing a short-lived but intense security scare two days before the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The hijacking of Aeromexico Flight 576, bound from the resort city of Cancún to Mexico City, was carried out by an unarmed Bolivian who threatened to explode a bomb on the plane, said Genaro García Luna, Mexico's public safety secretary.
No bomb was found, and everyone on the plane was released unharmed after a standoff of about an hour on a remote taxiway at Mexico City's airport.
The man, Jose Mar Flores Pereira, told police he had staged the attack because he wanted to speak with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and warn him about an earthquake about to hit Mexico City, García Luna said.
Flores claimed he had had a divine revelation telling him that an earthquake would occur on Sept. 9, 2009, because the date's digits are the inverse of the satanic symbol 666, García Luna said.
A smiling Flores appeared before news cameras in handcuffs, wearing a white tropical shirt and a necklace.
Hijackings of airliners, once a common action by terrorists, political groups or those seeking money, have become increasingly rare as aviation security has improved around the world.
The attack served as a reminder that attackers can sow terror with simple threats, said Leonardo Sánchez, a Boeing 737 pilot and spokesman for Mexico's pilots union.
"There's still a certain vulnerability," Sánchez said. "Speaking as a pilot, if someone makes a threat like that, I have to assume it is true."
Police originally detained several passengers as suspects but later determined that Flores had worked alone, García Luna said.
Aida Flores, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Mexico City, said embassy officials were trying to determine how many U.S. citizens were on the aircraft.
The hijacking briefly captivated a country that has been traumatized by recent violence as the government tries to crack down on drug cartels. Live TV showed police commandos storming the plane to end the assault.
Passenger Marisa Lopez said she was sitting in row 24 of the Boeing 737 and briefly noticed commotion in the rear of the plane near the restrooms. She said passengers did not know the plane had been hijacked until the captain came on the intercom after landing and informed them.
"It was like a movie, something you see in a movie but never think you will live through," Lopez told TV Azteca by cellphone.
Rich Roth, an aviation security consultant, said security on international flights from Mexico to the USA is stringent and meets U.S. standards. However, he said, security on domestic flights within Mexico is usually minimal. "I personally wouldn't fly within Mexico," he said.
Richard Hahn, a counterterrorism consultant based in Seal Beach, Calif., said it's unclear whether better security could have prevented an incident like the one Wednesday. "Unless someone had been involved in something like this before, how would you ever know their intentions?" he said.
Mexico's last hijacking was in 1972, when five gunmen seized a Mexicana flight and forced it to fly to Cuba.