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World - Europe

Hijacking of Russian jetliner turns out to be bizarre hoax

The incident began with a note found in the plane's lavatory  
August 9, 1998
Web posted at: 8:09 p.m. EDT (0009 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- The purported hijacking of a Russian passenger jetliner Sunday led to tense moments at Moscow's Domodedovo airport -- but in the end turned out to be a bizarre hoax.

The incident began when a crew member on a East Line jet -- en route from the Siberian city of Tyumen to Moscow with 97 people on board -- found a note demanding $100,000 and threatening to blow up the plane.

The note instructed authorities to put the money in five bags, place them in the bathroom, leave the jet unattended for three hours and let passengers leave the plane unchecked.

But when the jet arrived in Moscow, it was met by police in armored personnel carriers and forces from Russia's Federal Security Service. Once they determined that no one on the plane was armed and there were no explosives aboard, passengers were interrogated and luggage searched.

No one owned up to writing the note. The FSS took handwriting samples from the passengers for comparison. By late Sunday, most of the passengers had been allowed to leave, but several people who police thought might have been involved in the incident were being held for additional questioning.

Passengers interviewed by NTV television said they weren't told about the alleged hijacking. Rather, they were told that the plane was being detained because some passengers had cholera.

Gen. Alexander Tsarenki, head of the Moscow regional branch of the FSS, said authorities wanted to "avoid unnecessary panic" by not telling passengers about the purported hijacking.

He said that the incident didn't qualify as terrorism, terming it "scandalous hooliganism."

Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.
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