Hijackers surrender and release hostages from Greek bus after 18 hour standoff
ATHENS, Greece – Two armed Albanian hijackers surrendered and released their hostages early today, 18 hours after seizing a bus in an Athens suburb and threatening to blow it up if authorities did not pay a ransom.
Police said a preliminary investigation indicated the two men, both 24, were motivated by money and had planned to take the bus to Albania.
The six remaining hostages left the bus from the driver’s door, and heavily armed police then searched the vehicle. The two hijackers left the bus with their hands on their heads after throwing two shotguns out the door. No hostages were harmed.
The hijackers had initially seized 26 hostages, but the bus driver, a ticket inspector and a passenger escaped almost immediately.
The armed men then gradually released 17 other passengers throughout the day Wednesday. Relatives of the hostages, who were waiting in a nearby supermarket, ran to hug them.
At one point during the standoff, a hijacker threatened to blow up the bus if authorities did not deliver a ransom of $1 million by dawn Thursday. They also initially demanded a new bus driver and told police they wanted to be taken to Athens airport and flown to Russia.
Gen. Giorgos Angelakos, chief of the Greek police, said the two suspects were armed with shotguns but did not have explosives and the demand to go to the airport appeared to be a ruse to hide their real destination.
“A preliminary investigation shows they wanted the money and their goal was to go to Albania,” Angelakos said.
The two men were identified as Gaz Resuli and Leonard Murati. Their hometowns in Albania were not available, but Angelakos said they had been living in Greece for the past six or seven years.
The hijackers seized control of the intercity bus at 5:50 a.m. Wednesday at a bus stop in the Athens suburb of Geraka, about 10 miles east of the city center.
Police praised the driver for his escape, which immobilized the bus and gave authorities control over the situation.
Giorgos Voulgarakis, the minister in charge of police, credited the peaceful end to the standoff to training police were given for the summer Olympic Games.
The hijackers, who reportedly had criminal records in Greece, began releasing hostages in the early afternoon. Some looked dazed and confused as they staggered off the bus. One woman limped toward black-clad anti-terrorist agent, who waved her to safety.
Premier Costas Caramanlis delayed a trip to a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday to deal with the crisis, his spokesman said. A scheduled demonstration by Greece’s main workers union to protest the rising cost of living also was postponed.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants live in Greece, including many from Albania and the former Soviet Union.
The hijacking was a first test for a Greek police force that underwent intensive training to deal with such situations during the Olympic Games. It also was the fifth time a bus has been hijacked since 1999.
The bus was on a route from the town of Marathon, east of Athens, to the city center. It was hijacked at a stop on a highway renovated for the Olympic Games and used for the marathon race, which follows a 26.2-mile course from ancient Marathon to central Athens.