Passengers overpower armed man who hijacked Mauritanian plane

Passengers overpowered an armed man who hijacked a Mauritanian plane and took it to Spain's Canary Islands, a Spanish Interior Ministry official said.

Carolina Darias said the man was arrested when police boarded the Air Mauritania 737 shortly after the aircraft landed Thursday at Gando military base, outside Las Palmas city's international airport on Gran Canaria island.

Of the 71 passengers - mostly Spaniards and Mauritanians - 21 were treated for slight injuries, a Las Palmas police spokesman said. The most serious was a pregnant woman was treated for severe shock.

Police said the man had been carrying two loaded handguns.

Mauritanian police said the hijacker's motive was not terrorism. Mohamed Ould Mohamed Cheikh, Mauritania's top police official, said the hijacker was a Moroccan from Western Sahara and wanted to immigrate to France.

The man had tried many times to obtain a French visa at that country's embassy in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, where he had lived for a few months, said Mohamed. The hijacker's identity wasn't given.

The Boeing 737, with eight crew, was hijacked after leaving the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott at 4:30 p.m. It was bound for a stopover at Nouadhibou in the north of the West African country before flying to Las Palmas.

Air Mauritania director Mohamed Ould Aoufa said the hijacker demanded to go to France but after the crew refused because of a lack of fuel the plane turned toward the Spanish islands.

Aoufa said the crew was involved in overpowering the hijacker.

When it landed at Gando military airport shortly after 7 p.m., the plane was immediately surrounded by paramilitary Civil Guard police. The ordeal ended minutes later, the AP reports.

Moroccan authorities refused the hijacker's request to land in Moroccan territory, the North African kingdom's MAP news agency said. A spokesman for Morocco's Interior Ministry said he was not aware of the hijacking.

Some news reports said the plane refueled in Dakhla, in Western Sahara. But Dakhla airport station chief Mohamed Kadri said the plane did not land there.

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