By Yiannis Kourtoglou
LARNACA, Cyprus March 30 – An Egyptian man accused of hijacking a passenger plane and diverting it to Cyprus has told police he acted because he wanted to see his estranged wife and children, saying “what should one do?”.
The suspect, whom Cypriot and Egyptian authorities have identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, surrendered on Tuesday after commandeering a domestic Alexandria-Cairo flight with 72 passengers and crew on board.
A Larnaca court on Wednesday ordered him to be held in custody for eight days on suspicion of hijacking, abduction, threatening violence, terrorism-related offences and two counts related to possession of explosives.
The latter counts were connected to his claim of being strapped with explosives, even though the belt he wore is believed to be fake, a police source told Reuters.
As he left the court compound in a police jeep, Mustafa stuck his hand out of an open window flashing the ‘v’ sign for victory.
Egypt’s public prosecutor has asked Cypriot authorities to hand over Mustafa, Egyptian state television reported, but a Cyprus police spokesman and a government official have said that any talk of extradition right now was premature.
Mustafa took charge of the early morning flight by showing what appeared to be a belt stuffed with plastic wires and a remote control, directing the flight to the holiday island where he asked for the release of female prisoners in Egypt, and to come in contact with his Cypriot ex-wife.
“When someone hasn’t seen his family for 24 years and wants to see his wife and children, and the Egyptian government doesn’t allow it, what should one do?,” he told Cypriot police in a statement.
Details of his claimed predicament were not available.
All hostages were released unharmed after a six-hour standoff.
The suspect allegedly commandeered the aircraft 15 minutes after takeoff from Alexandria. He approached a flight attendant and showed off the belt, attached to a remote control he held in his hand, investigating officer Andreas Lambrianou told the court.
“The suspect asked all passengers and crew to hand in their passports, then gave two messages to a member of the crew, asking that the pilot be informed that he was a hijacker and wanted to land at an airport in Turkey, Greece or Cyprus, but preferably Cyprus,” Lambrianou said.
“In a note, he stressed that if the airplane landed on Egyptian territory he would immediately blow the plane up.”
In Cyprus, Mustafa dropped an envelope on the runway addressed to a Cypriot woman, later ascertained to be his ex-wife. In the letter, the suspect demanded the release of 63 female prisoners held in Egypt.