A group of 25 women and children were the first to be released to safety, but all 118 people one baord were later released – before the hijackers emerged waving the Libyan flag that was used in the Colonel Gaddafi era at the top of the staircase.
The two men also agreed to give up their weapons, putting an end to the dramatic hostage takeover that saw the airport put on lockdown after a hijacker threatened to blow up the jet with a hand grenade.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat confirmed the two men had surrendered and were in custody after hijacking the jet over Libya.
Television pictures showed two men being led from the aircraft in handcuffs.
Mr Muscat initially said the hijackers were armed with a hand grenade and gun when searched by the authorities.
A second gun was found on board. Maltese officials continue to search the plane.
But forensic exams found the weapons were replicas.
Mr Muscat said: “The hijackers are being interrogated and crew and passengers are being questioned.
“Arrangements being made for crew and passengers to be sent back to Libya.”
The Afriqiyah Airways airbus A320 was on an internal flight in Libya with 111 passengers on board – including one baby, 82 men and 28 women – when the attack occurred.
It was forced to divert to Malta after a man hijacked the flight and threatened to blow up the plane unless his demands were met.
It was unclear what the hijackers’ demands were.
One of the men who hijacked a Libyan internal flight and diverted it to Malta told Libyan TV he was the head of a party supporting late leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The man, who gave his name as Moussa Shaha, told Libya’s Channel TV station by phone that he was the head of Al-Fateh Al-Jadeed, or The New Al-Fateh.
Woman and children were the first to be released
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said a hand grenade and two guns were found
Al-Fateh is the name that Gaddafi gave to September, the month he staged a coup in 1969, and the word came to signify his coming to power.
Images appeared to show a hijacker stepping out of the plane with a green flag similar to those used by Gaddafi supporters.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an uprising in 2011, and the country has been racked by factional violence since.
The plane, flight number 8U209, left Sabha in south-west Libya for Tripoli at 10.10am.
It was scheduled to arrive at 11.20am, but was instead diverted to Malta International Airport, where it landed at 11:32am.
An airline official has also confirmed the jet headed for Malta, before turning back towards Tripoli, and then flew on to Malta.
Early reports claim the man told crew they were “pro-Gaddafi” and would be willing to let all 111 passengers leave the Airbus A320 but not its seven crew if his demands were met.
Buses were driven onto the tarmac at Malta International Airport to carry away 109 passengers, as well as some of the crew. Television footage showed no signs of struggle or alarm.
After passengers had left the plane, a man briefly appeared at the top of the steps with a plain green flag resembling that of Gaddafi’s now-defunct state.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted: “Informed of potential hijack situation of a Libya internal flight diverted to Malta. Security and emergency operations standing by -JM”.
In a brief statement, the Maltese government said that preliminary information indicates that there was a hijack on board.
Mr Muscat has also summoned the National Security Committee meeting to convene in Castille.
The plane left Sabha in south-west Libya for Tripoli at 10am
Soldiers have surrounded the packed plane on the tarmac
But it was not clear what their demands are, according to Hadi al-Saghir, a Libyan member of parliament who spoke to a colleague on board the flight.
Abdusalem Mrabit, a fellow member of Libya’s House of Representatives, had told him that the two hijackers were in their mid 20s and were from the Tebu, an ethnic group present in southern Libya from where the plane departed.
However it has also been claimed they demanded the creation of a pro-Gaddafi party – along with requesting political asylum in Malta.
Armed police have been deployed to the airport
The hijackers emerged from the plane waving flags
The Maltese government said Muscat had discussed the hijack with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj by phone, and a negotiating team had been formed and was at the airport.
Britain also offered Malta help with dealing with the incident.
The aircraft’s engines were still running 45 minutes after it landed in late morning.
A senior Libyan security official told Reuters that when the plane was still in flight on Friday morning the pilot told the control tower at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport it had been hijacked.
“The pilot reported to the control tower in Tripoli that they were being hijacked, then they lost communication with him,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The pilot tried very hard to have them land at the correct destination but they refused.”
The plan has now been surrounded by armed police
Several passengers descended steps from a hijacked plane at Malta International Airport and Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted that women and children were being freed.
Flights leaving the MIA were delayed, while planes scheduled to land at the airport were diverted to Catania.
The hijackers have now agreed to release the hostages
A spokesperson for the Malta Air Traffic Services told MaltaToday that it is far too early to release any information.
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca urged the public to remain calm and follow official updates.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said: “Following news of plane hijacking with grave concern. My full cooperation to Govt to protect #Malta security and the safety of passengers.”
The plane was scheduled to arrive in Tripoli at 11.20am
The plane was diverted to Malta during an internal flight to Tripoli
The hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 is owned by the state
The aircraft had been flying from Sebha in southwest Libya to Tripoli for state-owned Afriqiyah Airways, a trip that would usually take a little over two hours.
The last major hijacking on the tiny Mediterranean island, around 300 miles north of Libya, was in 1985, when Palestinians took over an Egyptair plane.
Egyptian commandos stormed the aircraft and dozens of people were killed.
On 19 December, one of Afriqiyah Airways’ planes was shot at while on the ground at Tripoli Mitiga.
The hijack comes just days after the Berlin terror attack when a truck hijacked by a Tunisian asylum seeker ploughed into a busy Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 48 people.