A Greek bus with 26 people aboard was hijacked today by two men, reportedly Russians, who demanded to be taken to Athens airport, police and government officials said.
Police said there were 26 passengers and two hijackers aboard the bus. The bus was surrounded by patrol cars and ambulances at a stop about 10 miles from the city centre on the outskirts of eastern Athens.
According to a government source, the two men who seized the bus were apparently Russian and were demanding a driver to take them to the airport. They were armed with at least one shotgun but also claimed to be armed with explosives.
“Tell them to move the van from in front of us or we will blow up the bus,” the man said in Greek.
“Tell them to get all the police way from here. We want to go to the airport and fly to Russia. All passengers will get off there. We haven’t harmed anyone, but if the driver is delayed I said that I will strike.”
Except for the demand to be taken to the airport, it was unclear why the men hijacked the bus.
Police anti-terrorist squads, which also deal with hijackings, parked a van in front of the bus to prevent it from driving away. Police negotiators were on the scene, police said.
The bus driver, a ticket-collector and another passenger managed to escape.
“I stopped the bus. I opened the doors in order for the people to come out. I opened my door as well and I pulled one woman out. We managed to get out a total of three people. There are 25 people inside,” a man identified only as the driver told state-run NET television.
Bus company president Nikos Koutsogeorgas confirmed there were at least two hijackers aboard the bus demanding a car to be taken to the airport. He also said they were Russians.
Athens’ Alpha television station also spoke by cellular phone to a man on the bus purporting to be a hijacker.
Police said the bus was hijacked at 5.50am local time (3.50am Irish time) when two armed men entered the bus and fired shots into the roof of the vehicle.
“I was the first at the scene and saw the driver jumping out of the bus with a ticket-collector and another woman. There was a scuffle inside the bus,” Nikos Balogiannis, an eyewitness, told state-run NET television.
At least two shots had been fired at police who arrived at the scene shortly after the takeover, while several shots have been heard from inside the bus since it came to a standstill.
The bus was on a route from the town of Marathon, east of Athens, to the city centre when it was hijacked at a stop in the suburb of Geraka.
The bus stop was on a highway that was renovated for the Olympic Games and used for the Marathon race.