ALGERMISSEN, Germany – A Lebanese gunman demanding the release of a key Sept. 11 suspect in U.S. custody hijacked a bus in the northern German city of Bremen on Friday, taking 16 hostages and leading police on a highway chase.
No one was injured in the seven-hour ordeal, which ended when police stormed the bus and captured the 17-year-old hijacker, who commandeered the bus with a pistol that fires blanks and a satchel he claimed was packed with explosives, police said.
No shots were fired during the storming, and none of the hostages nor the gunman was injured, police said.
During negotiations with police, the young man demanded the release of four prisoners including Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the Hamburg-based Sept. 11 plotters who was captured in Pakistan last year and is in U.S. custody, prosecutor Uwe Picard told reporters.
Binalshibh, a Yemeni, is believed to have been the key contact between al-Qaida and the Hamburg cell that included three of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Bremen’s top security official, Kuno Boese, told a news conference that the teenage suspect praised the hijackers in a letter left for his parents on Thursday. Officials said there was no indication the bus hijacker was a member of terrorist group.
Authorities did not release his name.
The suspect had taken a seat behind the driver, and with a gun trained on his back, forced the bus onto the autobahn, Germany’s high-speed freeway, with police cars and ambulances trailing at a distance.
TV images showed the red-and-white bus speeding along the autobahn with the hostages huddled in the back. Police blocked autobahn ramps along the way to prevent cars from being caught in the hijacking.
About two hours later, the hijacker stopped the bus near Hanover, about 75 miles away, and began negotiating with authorities by telephone.
He asked for water, a cell phone and a replacement bus driver, and demanded to talk to Bremen’s mayor, Henning Scherf, police spokesman Ronald Walter said.
Police surrounded the bus, and authorities closed off the autobahn in both directions near the town of Algermissen, causing huge traffic jams in the Friday afternoon rush hour.
The hijacker eventually freed seven passengers, leaving the bus driver and four others to be freed when the drama ended shortly after 4 p.m. Police said the suspect released three elderly women in Bremen, and a man escaped at another point.
It was Germany’s second bus hijacking in two weeks.
On April 11, an armed man commandeered a Berlin city bus after a bank robbery. Police stormed the bus after more than four hours, shooting the hijacker in the shoulder and freeing his last two hostages unharmed.