.- Two men have hijacked a Turkish Airlines plane, supposedly in protest of Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Turkey next month. The Pontiff is expected to travel to the mostly Muslim country November 28th – December 1st.
The commercial airliner with more than 100 people on-board was en route from Tirana, Albania to Istanbul, Turkey when two men overtook the cockpit over Greek airspace. According to ANSA, two F-16’s were scrambled and forced the plane to land in Brindisi, Italy.
The hijackers have reportedly demanded a message be relayed to Pope Benedict XVI not to travel to their country.
When asked of a possible connection to the Pope’s upcoming trip, Turkish Airlines chief executive Candan Karlitekin told Turkey's NTV television: "The cockpit was told that it was a protest of this nature."
"There is no threat at the moment to the passengers or crew. We believe the hijackers will surrender," Karlitekin said. The hijackers told the pilots from the start that they would surrender once the plane landed, he said.
The Vatican has remained steadfast in its determination that the Pope’s trip continue as scheduled, even after violent protests following the misunderstanding of the words he spoke in Germany last month.
Prior to the Pope’s comments on Islam at the University of Regensburg, many questioned his safety in Turkey. In May a novel was published entitled, “Assassination of a Pope.” The book is written about a Turkish gunman who assassinates the Holy Father on his trip.
Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II, released a statement from prison two weeks ago, also warning Benedict not to visit.