Turkish Hijacker Acted Alone

A Turkish national who hijacked a jetliner Tuesday bound for Istanbul from Albania with 113 people onboard ultimately released all the passengers and gave himself up.

The drama, which played itself out at an airfield in southern Italy, lasted for a little more than two hours and ended as abruptly as it began.

But there were some tense moments as Italian authorities tried to make sense of what was going on. And it was a story that, no doubt, was watched with more than a little anxiety over at the Vatican.

Initial reports said the hijacker, identified as 28-year-old Hakan Ekinci, was protesting against Pope Benedict's upcoming visit to Turkey.

A speech that the pope recently gave has angered Muslims around the world, leading to fears of widespread protest and violence should the trip go ahead.

It wasn't until after Ekinci had surrendered and the passengers had been released that his real motive was fully understood. Ekinci wanted to deliver a message to the pope, but it doesn't seem directly related to the pope's planned trip.

An Italian official at Brindisi Airport in Italy told ABC News that early on, it was clear the hijacker was going to surrender. The official said Italian negotiators may have agreed to allow Ekinci to, indeed, deliver a message to the pope, possibly as part of a deal to get him to give himself up.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said, "A policeman took a camera from a reporter at the scene and when the hijacker delivered the message, the policeman pretended to be recording." According to the source, the camera was never switched on and he could not say what the message was.

However, government officials in Turkey believe they know exactly what Ekinci was trying to say, and that he was probably asking for the pope's help.

Turkey's transport minister and Istanbul's governor both say the hijacker was actually an army deserter. Transport Minister Binali Yilderim told The Associated Press that Ekinci was trying to get out of military service back in Turkey. "It has nothing to do with the pope's visit. It was a simple attempt of seeking political asylum under the influence of psychological problems," Yilderim said.

Turkey's NTV also reported that Ekinci was an army deserter who had converted to Christianity and fled to Albania earlier this year.

Ekinci is reported to have sent a letter to the pope in August, saying he was a Christian and asking for help so he wouldn't have to go back to military service in Turkey.

The private news agency, Dogan, says it obtained a letter Ekinci posted on an Internet blog, where he wrote, "I am Hakan Ekinci. I am a Christian and I never want to serve in a Muslim army ... I am begging you for help as the spiritual leader of us, Christians."

Just after the Turkish Airlines flight lifted off from Tirana, Albania, the captain put out an alert that the plane had been hijacked. Ekinci had apparently burst into the cockpit and somehow convinced the pilot that he had an accomplice.

This led to first reports that there were two hijackers. It wasn't until each of the passengers had been questioned, one by one, that Italian authorities were satisfied that, in fact, Ekinci had acted alone.

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