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08/09/1998 19:32:28 Mystery note sparks hijack airport alert in Russia

(Updates with police inquiry, wraps up)

By Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW, Aug 9 (Reuters) - The search was still on

late Sunday for would-be highjackers who sparked a

security alert when they threatened to blow up a

Moscow-bound jet unless they were given $100,000.

But after a day of questioning of all 97

passengers on the domestic East Line airline flight

from the city of Ust-Ilimsk, the culprits hadn't been

detected.

A message calling for the money to be divided into

five envelopes and left in the jet's toilet led the

flight attendent who found it to raise the alarm,

security officials said.

In the note, the hijackers demanded the jet be

left unattended at Moscow's Domodedovo airport for at

least three hours and that passengers be allowed to

leave unchecked. They also wanted a flight to an

unspecified destination.

Anti-terrorist forces, including armoured

personnel carriers, rushed to the scene after the

alarm was sounded at 10:50 a.m. (0600 GMT) Sunday

morning.

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service told

Reuters one of its officers tried to begin

negotiations with the hijackers -- but there was

no-one to talk to. No bomb was found on the plane.

"It was a clever way to let them pick up money and

go," airport security chief Alexander Sopov said.

The head of Moscow regional branch of the Federal

Security Service, General Alexander Tsarenko, told a

news conference that police were searching through

passengers' luggage and taking samples of their

handwriting to compare it with the letter.

By late Sunday, most of the passengers were

allowed to leave but several people who police thought

might have been involved in the incident were being

held for extra questioning.

"The way the whole thing had been arranged

indicates that it was rather an act of hooliganism in

its most dangerous form," Kuznetsov.

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