- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2006

1:25 p.m.

ROME — A Turkish Airlines plane carrying 113 persons from Albania to Istanbul landed in Italy today after being hijacked by two Turks protesting Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to Turkey, officials said.

The plane landed in Brindisi, Italy, and the hijackers told authorities they were prepared to surrender, said Candan Karlitekin, chairman of Turkish Airlines’ board of directors.

Private Turkish television NTV and an Italian aviation official reported that the hijackers were negotiating the release of the passengers. NTV said they wanted to make a protest statement about Pope Benedict.

“The passengers are not under any threat,” Mr. Karlitekin said. “There is no loss of life or any injuries.”

He added that the hijackers declared they would surrender “the moment they hijacked the plane,” which was flying from the Albanian capital of Tirana to Istanbul.

There were 107 passengers and a crew of six aboard, he said.

A spokesman for the Greek military’s general staff said four Greek fighter jets had been scrambled to shadow the plane after it issued a distress signal over Greek airspace.

The plane contacted Italian air traffic controllers and asked to land in Brindisi, and it was escorted to the ground by two Italian military jets, according to Nicoletta Tomiselli, a spokeswoman for the Italian air traffic agency ENAV.

Mr. Karlitekin said the aircraft was hijacked to protest Pope Benedict’s planned visit to Turkey next month.

The pope came under siege from Muslim protests over a quotation from a medieval Byzantine emperor about Islam and violence. The remarks came in a Sept. 12 speech about faith and reason that he gave at a university where he used to teach in his native Germany.

Pope Benedict has said that his words were misunderstood and that he was sorry that Muslims were offended.

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