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Hijacking Suspect Questioned in Turkey Over Sochi Plot

Feb. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Turkish police questioned a Ukrainian man suspected of trying to divert an airliner to the Russian city of Sochi, where the Winter Olympics started yesterday, state-run broadcaster TRT said.

The Pegasus Airlines plane landed as scheduled in Istanbul yesterday and officers overpowered the suspect, identified as Artem Hozlov, TRT cited police as saying. Hozlov, who was slightly injured during the incident, underwent a medical examination today before police began interrogating him, the Ihlas news agency said. Police are trying to determine whether Hozlov acted alone or is linked to terrorist groups, TRT said.

The plane was carrying 110 passengers from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport when a passenger demanded that it head for Sochi, Turkish Transportation Ministry Undersecretary Mehmet Habib Soluk told CNN-Turk television yesterday. The crew was able to trick the man into thinking he was landing in Sochi because video screens showing the aircraft’s progress were turned off, Soluk said.

“He wanted to divert the plane to Sochi to give a message regarding sporting activities there,” TRT cited Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu as saying yesterday, without elaborating. Mutlu said the 45-year-old suspect didn’t have a bomb, as he had claimed, although electronic devices were found in his bag. He may have taken medication to increase his alertness, the minister said.

Two Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jets were dispatched to escort the plane after it entered the country’s airspace, Mutlu said.

The Olympics opening ceremony took place yesterday against a backdrop of tight security, with 40,000 police and special services officers in the area. Concerns about safety at the games increased after two suicide bombings killed more than 30 people in December in the Russian city of Volgograd, less than 700 kilometers (430 miles) from Sochi.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at shacaoglu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Langan at hlangan@bloomberg.net

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