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Security hoax forces EgyptAir plane to make emergency landing in Uzbekistan

Reuters Reuters 8/06/2016
FILE - In this May 19, 2016 file photo, an Egypt and EgyptAir flags are seen over Egyptair in-flight service building © Amr Nabil/ AP Photo FILE - In this May 19, 2016 file photo, an Egypt and EgyptAir flags are seen over Egyptair in-flight service building

An EgyptAir passenger plane en route from Cairo to Beijing was forced to make an emergency landing in Uzbekistan on Wednesday after receiving a security threat that the airline said turned out to be a hoax.

All 118 passengers and 17 crew members on board the Airbus plane were evacuated in Urgench, western Uzbekistan, after the threat was made three hours into the flight, EgyptAir said in a statement.

The plane and passengers were searched by Uzbek authorities who confirmed that the threat was a hoax, it said.

"The necessary actions are underway to resume the journey to Beijing Airport," it said.

The emergency landing comes weeks after an EgyptAir flight crashed into the Mediterranean on May 19, killing all 66 people on board. An investigation is underway into the causes of the disaster.

EgyptAir has received a number of bomb threats since the crash, all of which have turned out to be hoaxes.

An EgyptAir official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the hoaxes had caused numerous delays and cost the company a lot of money.

"It is a conspiracy against EgyptAir," he said. "It is very costly."

Last month's crash was the third major aviation incident for Egypt since a Russian plane was brought down by a bomb in late October. In March, a man wearing a fake suicide belt hijacked an EgyptAir plane and diverted it to Cyprus.

Wednesday's false security threat, which was unusual in that it was made after the plane had taken off, could add to a climate of uncertainty that has already put off visitors.

The number of tourists visiting Egypt fell 54 percent in April 2016 compared to a year earlier as Egypt has struggled to restore confidence and lure visitors back to its sandy beaches and pharaonic relics.

Egypt's tourism industry, a cornerstone of the economy and a critical source of hard currency, has been struggling since the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule and ushered in a period of political and economic upheaval.

Egyptian forces are also battling to end an Islamist insurgency that is raging in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, where the Russian plane crashed. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Anton Zverev in Moscow and Lin Noueihed and Amina Ismail in Cairo; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Amina Ismail; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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