Rare plane hijacking adds to Mexico's sense of insecurity

Christian Science MonitorSeptember 9, 2009 

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's tenuous sense of security took a dramatic blow Wednesday as an Aeromexico plane was hijacked in the vacation town of Cancun and flown to Mexico City.

All passengers, numbering more than 100, were let off and the government is touting a safe ending. But the event may damage the country's recent efforts to portray itself as a safe destination and a place of law and order.

At least five suspects are in police custody. Local media had reported that they were Bolivian nationals threatening to blow up the aircraft if President Felipe Calderón did not speak with them.

A presidential spokesman said that the crew was released after the passengers, touting that as a "swift maneuver" on the part of Mexican security forces.

President Calderon has been battling with drug traffickers since he took office in 2006, and their attacks have become increasingly brazen. But Alejandro Schtulmann, president of the Emerging Markets Political Risk Analysis (EMPRA) consulting firm in Mexico City, says that he doubts it had anything to do with organized crime.

"[Drug cartel members] would target an official before hijacking a plane," says Mr. Schtulmann. "They usually want to leave a mark by killing someone violently. They do not want to be perceived by society as a national security problem. They work very hard to build ties in the regions of influence."

It will certainly be a blow to the nation's tourism business, which is already suffering from the country's growing reputation for violence and as ground zero of the swine-flu outbreak this spring. Cancun is a popular destination among Americans, and one of the few places that many told the Monitor last spring that they still felt safe in Mexico.

Adriana Romero, who was onboard the flight, told a Mexican television station that she had not realized that the plane had been hijacked until it landed hours later in Mexico City.

"We realized it was a hijack when we saw the police trucks," she said. "There were no shouts, there wasn't any crying, we were all very tranquil."

The local newspaper El Universal said the men did not enter the cockpit, perhaps because they were unable to access it.

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