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Friday, February 7, 2014

Bomb Threat Grounds Plane In Turkey As Sochi Games Begin

Performers light up as the Russian flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Performers light up as the Russian flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

A Turkish official says a passenger claiming there was a bomb on board tried to hijack an Istanbul-bound plane to Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympics are kicking off.

According to NTV television, an F-16 fighter plane was scrambled as soon as the pilot signaled there was a hijacking attempt and escorted the plane to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport.

Turkey’s state-run TRT television said authorities convinced the man to give himself up and he was taken into police custody, but there was no confirmation from the Transport Ministry.

Tim Arango of The New York Times joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson from Istanbul with the latest.

Meantime, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics kicked off today with a highly anticipated opening ceremony. Spectators from all over the world will tune into the event, which marks the costliest Olympic Games in history. We get an update from NPR’s Sam Sanders.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.

Fireworks explode over the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the beginning of the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. (Alexander Nenenov/AFP/Getty Images)

Fireworks explode over the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the beginning of the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. (Alexander Nenenov/AFP/Getty Images)




From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. And in a moment we'll check in on the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics in Sochi, which got underway today. But first to the news from Istanbul, Turkey, that a plane was hijacked, and the hijacker wanted to take the plane to Sochi.

The plane was on the way from Ukraine to Turkey and landed safely in Istanbul, and that's where we go to find Tim Arango of the New York Times. He's with us from Istanbul. Tim, what happened?

TIM ARANGO: Well, apparently the plane was en route from Ukraine to Istanbul, and a man stood up and screamed that he had a bomb and demanded that the plane fly to Sochi. Some of the details, it's early yet, are sketchy. But what we do know is that the Turkish government scrambled an F-16 jet, and the plane was escorted back - or to Istanbul.

And apparently they told the guy that they were going to Sochi, and so apparently, according to Turkish news so far, the man actually thought that he had succeeded in getting the plane diverted.

HOBSON: Do we know where he is now?

ARANGO: Yes, there were Turkish news reports and images showing him being taken from the plane, and he's apparently in custody right now. He's been described as a man in his 40s, but we don't know a whole lot about him yet. There are other reports saying that there was not, in fact, a bomb and that he may have been - people have claimed he appeared drunk.

HOBSON: Do we know if anyone on the plane was injured in all this?

ARANGO: We have no reports that anybody was injured. Turkish officials have said that nobody was, in fact, injured. So we don't think there was any injuries.

HOBSON: All right, Tim Arango of the New York Times, thanks so much for joining us from Istanbul. And now let's get to Sochi, where the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics were held today. And after all the controversy about Russia's ban on so-called gay propaganda, the Russian Olympic team walked out to the music of the pop duo t.A.T.u., which is known for lesbian imagery and lyrics, like this 2003 song "All The Things She Said."


T.A.T.U.: (Singing) All the things you said running through my head, running through my head...

HOBSON: Well, close to 40,000 people were watching from the stands, and countless more will be watching from their couches here in the U.S. this evening. NPR's Sam Sanders is with us from Sochi. And Sam, what should we make, first of all, of t.A.T.u. being played?

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Probably not too much. We have to just keep in mind that t.A.T.u. is the biggest pop act from Russia in the last 20 years or so, and that's not saying much. So I don't - I'm not sure that they were trying to send a message more than just send their most popular I guess export.

One of the producers of the show acknowledged Friday that they're not London. They don't have One Direction. They don't have The Spice Girls. They've got Tchaikovsky and Tolstoy. So this was as pop as they could do.

HOBSON: Tell us about the security at the stadium.

SANDERS: It's pretty much what you'd expect. There's a lot of checkpoints, a lot of showing of your ID and your badge, a lot of bags being searched but nothing that seems too extreme. Once you're in the village you can pretty much wander freely, and I've been doing that. I was able to take a nice run this morning and see a lot of the sights in the village. Once you're in, you can pretty much do what you want.

HOBSON: And we've also been hearing about how poorly constructed a lot of the buildings are there and journalists complaining about their hotels. Tell us about what it's like in Sochi in and out of the village.

SANDERS: Yeah, you know, I must say some of the outcry over the hotels is a bit overblown. My hotel is not the best, but it's fine. I've a bed with warm blankets and hot water and a toilet that flushes. You know, I don't think we should've expected to come over here to the W or something.

That said, there's construction everywhere, in the mountain cluster, as they call it, in the coastal cluster as they call it, in places where you wouldn't expect to see construction. But this is because this whole thing, all of Sochi, is meant to be something more and bigger than the Olympic. The idea is to make this a venue and a destination that will keep people coming after these games are over.

So it makes sense to have construction still going on because it's meant to be something more.

HOBSON: Now this is not broadcast in the United States yet, but I have seen some photos online of some spectacular fireworks displays. Tell us about the scale of this Opening Ceremonies.

SANDERS: It's pretty massive. Some data came out today for us, 10,000 Russians auditioned for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Strangely enough, "Gangnam Style" was the most popular song to audition to. Three thousand young artists were chosen, including circus performers. There are 2,700 volunteers. And I was there in the venue for the first 45 minutes or so, and just in the first few minutes there was massive fog from fog machines, snow falling from the ceiling, a gigantic moon, five jumbo snowflakes that unfurled into the rings of the Olympics. It was massive.

HOBSON: Well be watching. NPR's Sam Sanders, joining us from Sochi. Sam, thanks so much.

SANDERS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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