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Bolivian man acted alone in Mexico hijacking, official says

  • Story Highlights
  • Official says Bolivian man, 44, solely responsible for Aeromexico hijacking
  • Suspect told authorities the date -- 9/9/09 -- was significant, official says
  • 112 passengers were aboard when plane was hijacked
  • Hijacker demanded to speak to Mexican president, claimed to have bomb
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MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- A 44-year-old Bolivian drug addict and alcoholic who describes himself as a church minister was the sole person responsible for the brief hijacking Wednesday of a commercial jetliner, a Mexican official said.

Military personnel surround a hijacked Aeromexico jet after it landed Wednesday in Mexico City.

Military personnel surround a hijacked Aeromexico jet after it landed Wednesday in Mexico City.

The suspect, Josmar Flores Pereira, told authorities he hijacked the Boeing 737 jet because the date -- September 9, 2009, or 9/9/9, and 666 reversed -- held some significance for him, said Genaro Garcia Luna, the secretary for public safety.

"He said that because of that divine reference, he wanted to alert Mexico City of an earthquake," Garcia told reporters.

Flanked by two police officers, the suspect -- wearing a white shirt and blue jeans -- was then paraded in front of the news media. Chewing gum, he smiled.

"Christ is coming soon," he told reporters before being escorted off. He said that he had attached colored lights to a can and that there had been no bomb.

The hijacker took control of Aeromexico Flight 576 as the jet flew from the resort town of Cancun, telling a flight attendant he was one of three hijackers, Garcia said. Video Watch CNN's Rick Sanchez report on the hijacking as it unfolded »

He said a cardboard box he had contained a bomb, and threatened to blow it up if his demand to speak to President Felipe Calderon was not met, Garcia said.

Calderon was in the presidential hangar in the airport preparing to depart when the incident began, leading him to cancel his planned flight, CNN affiliate TV Azteca reported.

The hijacking apparently went unnoticed by many of those aboard the plane, which landed five minutes ahead of scheduled and was moved to a remote area of the airport. Passengers, clutching their hand luggage, walked from the plane and down a moveable stairway onto the tarmac, where they got into buses.

Pamela Cheatham, who said she was on the flight en route to Colorado, told CNN that nothing appeared amiss until the plane did not go directly to the terminal. Instead, the pilot announced that, for security purposes, the plane was gong to have to sit on the tarmac for a few minutes, she said.

"But when we saw the SWAT team and guys with the guns on both sides of the airline, we knew something was up," she said.

Moments later, the suspect and several other people were taken into custody, TV Azteca said. The package turned out not to contain explosives, the station said.

Garcia said the other people who were detained turned out not to be involved. Video Watch Aeromexico passengers being released »

A U.S. law enforcement official familiar with the situation said preliminary information indicated there were 112 passengers aboard the plane, all from Mexico, the United States or France.

"The flight was very tranquil," said Marisa Lopez, a passenger who was seated in Row 24 with her baby.

She said the only thing that caught her attention was the large number of emergency vehicles that were lined up along the tarmac when they arrived, five minutes ahead of schedule.

"Really, it was all very peaceful," she said. "We saw nothing."

Others were more aware of what was going on.

"It was very difficult, but the pilot told us to remain calm," said another passenger, who added that many of the passengers were families returning from vacation in Cancun. Read timeline of events »

The woman said the hijacker never spoke to them during the 45 minutes they were held.

"We were scared," said another woman. "But it seemed like things got under control when we came down. We were immediately surrounded, when we landed, by federal police."

Flores' wife, speaking with CNN by telephone from their home in the southern Mexican city of Oaxaca, said her husband had been looking for a way to get his message about God to the news media.

"He never wanted to hurt anyone," said Elisa Melgar, 38, the mother of their three sons and his wife of 18 years. "As his wife, I support him," she said, adding her husband had not touched alcohol or drugs for the past 17 years. "He's a man who was transformed by the power of God."

A video posted on YouTube shows the suspect singing that God had saved him from a life of drug addiction.

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