Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Hijacker still detained in Cyprus

Last week’s EgyptAir hijack is still being investigated by Cypriot authorities, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Hijacker Seifeddin Mustafa is being detained in Cyprus while police investigate the circumstances of last week’s hijack of EgyptAir Airbus A320 flight MS181. Mustafa, who could face a raft of charges including hijacking, kidnapping and threatening to commit violence, demanded the Alexandria-Cairo domestic flight divert to Larnaca after he threatened to blow the plane up with an explosive belt.

Local reports that the Egyptian authorities had requested the extradition of Mustafa have been denied in Cyprus.

“We have not received any such a request,” said Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides. “It would be highly unusual for such a request to be made while investigations are ongoing.”

“After the investigation ends it will be up to the police to recommend whether or not the case goes to trial. A final decision will then be made by the attorney general, bearing in mind the recommendations of the police,” he said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid says Egypt’s position towards the hijacker will be determined by existing agreements. “Bilateral treaties between Egypt and Cyprus were signed in 1996 and cover the extradition of suspects,” he said.

Mustafa, 59, was arrested at Larnaca Airport on 29 March. Cypriot authorities say he will remain in detention until the attorney-general takes a decision on the case.

Mustafa, who was expelled from law school, has a long criminal record and is suspected to be mentally unstable, married Cypriot Marina Paraschou in 1994 and has three children.

Paraschou described her marriage years to Mustafa as “five black years”. She told reporters she was brought by police to Larnaca Airport at the height of the hijack drama solely to confirm the identity of her ex-husband and not because Mustafa had made a written demand they meet as some media reports claimed.

 “They took me there just to confirm it was him,” she said.

Following the hijack the crew of EgyptAir flight MS181 held a press conference during which they recalled their six-hour ordeal.

EgyptAir security guard Hazem Shahed said the crucial issues facing the staff were to secure the cockpit of the plane and ensure the safety of passengers. “We dealt with the whole matter as a real threat. We had no choice but to react as if the explosive belt he was wearing was real, not fake as it turned out to be. We could not afford to take any risks in our evaluation of the crisis,” he said.

Crew members said they had been trained to deal with such a crisis and knew they had two options, either subdue the hijacker or negotiate with him.

Flight attendant Yasmine Sonbol told reporters the crew had decided to negotiate with Mustafa while keeping in constant contact with air control. “We tried to keep the negotiations going for as long as possible. We were confident that the longer they continued and the more stress — psychological and physical — the hijacker felt, then the closer we would be to a peaceful outcome,” she said.

Mustafa’s sister, Fikreya, who lives in the Cairo suburb of Helwan, was questioned by police last week. She denied any knowledge of her brother’s intentions.

“Mustafa said he was going to Alexandria to spend two days there and borrowed LE100 from me. He travelled with a small bag,” she said.

Fikreya has apologised to Egyptians, and to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, for the trouble caused by her brother.

In an interview with Saudi-based website Al-Arabiya net Fikreya said her brother had called the family from Larnaca saying he had hijacked a plane. She thought he was joking until he added he had done so in an attempt to force the Cypriot and Egyptian authorities to arrange a meeting with his children whom he had not seen since 1996.

The last hijacking of an EgyptAir plane was more than 30 years ago when an Athens-to-Cairo flight was seized by terrorists and redirected to Malta. It ended with the death of 60 of the 90 passengers after Egyptian troops stormed the aircraft and hijackers fought back with grenades. The hijackers are still serving time in a Cypriot prison.

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