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Bus Hijackers in Greece Hold Passengers Hostage

  • Harry Quetteville

Two armed men hijacked a bus in an Athens suburb Wednesday and are holding more than 20 people on board hostage. The hijackers are demanding a million euros in ransom and safe passage.

The two men armed with shotguns, rifles and what they claim to be grenades boarded the bus early Wednesday morning as it headed from a suburb of the Greek capital Athens to the center of the city.

The driver, ticket collector and one woman passenger managed to escape as the two men reportedly fired shots into the roof of the bus. More than 20 other passengers were left on board, and as police close round the blue commuter bus, one of the hostage takers, wearing a white t-shirt, walked to the drivers window and fired two warning shots from what appeared to be a shotgun.

The bus, immobile on the side of a two-lane road that was used as the Marathon route during this Summer's Olympic Games, was quickly blocked in by a police car parked closely behind it, and a large bus parked in front.

The two men, who are believed to be either Russian or Albanian, have demanded safe passage to the airport and more than $1.3 million in ransom. They promise to release all the hostages at the airport.

Negotiators and special forces troops camped around the bus for almost six hours before they achieved their first breakthrough - the release of a middle aged man, apparently for medical reasons. He was followed in the next hour by four other men, as negotiators made rapid progress.

Greece has had experience of several bus hostage takings in recent years. Earlier this year, a man held a bus driver a gunpoint for an hour before surrendering. Four years ago, a local man took over a bus carrying Japanese tourists, before he too surrendered.

In 1999, Albanian men took over two buses in separate incidents. In one, the hostage taker was shot dead by Greek police after a two-day standoff. In the other, the bus crossed to Albania, where special forces stormed the bus, killing the hostage taker and a passenger.