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08/09/1998 13:03:10 Russian security forces hunt "ghost hijackers"

(Updates with 70 passengers still on plane, other details)

MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Russian security forces kept 70

passengers aboard a plane at a Moscow's Domodedovo airport on

Sunday, believing hijackers who earlier threatened to blow it up

could be still among them.

Unidentified hijackers had demanded in a note that the

three-engined TU-154 jet, flying from the Siberian city of

Ust-Ilimsk with 97 people aboard, prepare to fly to another

destination and had asked for $100,000.

Security officials said initially that all passengers had

left the plane at Domodedovo airport after the hijack attempt,

but it emerged an hour later that at least 70 remained on board.

Airport security chief Alexander Sopov told Interfax news

agency that only women and children had left the aircraft.

Reporters were kept away from the plane, parked on a remote

lot of the huge airfield. Armoured cars which had earlier rushed

to the airport later left.

Sopov was shown on NTV commercial television saying the

security forces did not know how many hijackers were on board,

if any, and said security forces had not been in direct contact

with them.

"As of now we do not know who of the passengers is the

terrorist," he said.

"All negotiations were with the pilot."

Sopov said that a stewardess had found a letter in the aisle

during the flight which demanded that the equivalent of $100,000

in roubles, packed into five envelopes, be placed in the plane's

toilet.

The letter also said that the plane should stay at least

three hours at Domodedovo airport and that all passengers be

allowed to leave without any checks.

"It was a clever way to let them (the hijackers) pick up

money and go," he said.

Sopov made clear that passengers were kept in the plane for

security reasons.

RIA news agency quoted a spokesman for Istline airline, the

owner of the plane, as saying that all passengers had been taken

to the airport building for police checks aimed at finding

whether any of them was the actual troublemaker.

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