Two hijackers on board the state-owned Afriqiyah Airways plane have hand grenades and have threatened to blow up the aircraft, according to Malta state television. Their demands are not clear.
Around two-and-a-half hours after hijacked Flight 8U209 landed at Valletta, passengers began leaving the Airbus A320.
The Maltese prime minister said at 1.30pm GMT that 109 of the 111 passengers had been allowed to leave the aircraft. There are also seven crew members on board.
Maltese government sources said that at least one hijacker on board had told crew that he had a grenade. He said he was “pro-Gaddafi” and would release all passengers – but not the crew – if his as-yet-undisclosed demands were accepted, local media reported.
The deputy mayor for Lija in Malta, Madga Magri Naudi, confirmed that the hijackers had not yet made demands.
“The request has not been made,” she told the BBC. “This is a problem: we do not know what their requests are at the moment.”
The aircraft, carrying 111 passengers – 82 men, 28 women and an infant – and seven crew members, was on an internal flight from Sebha, in south-west Libya, to Tripoli when it appeared to be hijacked on Friday morning.
The pilot tried to land in Libya, but the hijackers refused his request, he told Tripoli airport control before communications were lost, according to a security official.
“The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,” the official said. “The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused.”
A source from Libya’s unity government confirmed hijackers diverted the plane and it had received permission to land in Malta. The island lies about 300 miles (500 km) north of the Libyan coast.
The Malta airport authority said all emergency teams had been dispatched to the site of what it called an “unlawful interference” on the airport tarmac.
Joseph Muscat, the Maltese premier, said that security forces were standing by to deal with the unfolding situation.
In a post from his official account, Mr Muscat said: “Informed of potential hijack situation of a Libya internal flight diverted to Malta. Security and emergency operations standing by -JM.”
The plane could be seen on the tarmac at Valletta surrounded by military vehicles and all flights from the airport were cancelled.
The plane’s engines were still running long after the aircraft landed at 10.30am GMT.
Two hijackers appear to be on board the plane, which remains on the runway, according to Malta airport officials.
— Joseph Muscat (@JosephMuscat_JM) December 23, 2016
Libya has been in a state of chaos since the 2011 overthrow of Col Muammar Gaddafi left warring militias battling for control of different parts of the country.
Forces loyal to a fledgling national unity government recently took control of the coastal city of Sirte, which had been a bastion for the Islamic State group since June 2015.