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The co-pilot of an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft bound for Rome hijacked the plane while the pilot was in the bathroom and forced the plane to land in Geneva, Swiss police say.

All 202 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 767-300 plane that had taken off Monday from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, are safe.

The Ethiopian-born hijacker, who is seeking asylum in Switzerland, has been arrested.

"The pilot went to the toilet and he (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit," Geneva airport Chief Executive Robert Deillon told the Associated Press.

The man "wanted asylum in Switzerland," he said. "That's the motivation of the hijacking."

The hijacking began over Italy and two Italian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane, Deillon said.

The co-pilot himself alerted authorities to the plane's hijacking and passengers on the plane were unaware it had been hijacked, officials said. After landing in Geneva, the co-pilot exited the cockpit using a rope and turned himself in to authorities.

Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said Swiss federal authorities were investigating the hijacking and would press charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Geneva airport was initially closed to other flights, but operations resumed around two hours after the hijacked plane landed. "We hope everything will return to normal in the afternoon," Deillon said.

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