Wednesday 24 January 2018

Cyprus hijacker believed to be 'psychologically unstable'

EgyptAir plane hijacking suspect Seif al-Din Mustafa flashes the victory sign as he leaves court in a police car in the Cypriot coastal town of Larnaca yesterday. Photo: Petros Karadjias/AP Photo
EgyptAir plane hijacking suspect Seif al-Din Mustafa flashes the victory sign as he leaves court in a police car in the Cypriot coastal town of Larnaca yesterday. Photo: Petros Karadjias/AP Photo
Plane hijacking suspect Seif al-Din Mustafa poses for a photograph on board the hijacked plan with hostage Ben Innes

Raf Sanchez

The Egyptian man arrested for hijacking a passenger plane flashed the V for victory sign as he appeared in court in Cyprus for the first time yesterday.

Less than 24 hours after Seif al-Din Mustafa (59) sparked global terror alerts by claiming he had a bomb onboard an EgyptAir flight, he appeared in handcuffs at a Larnaca court.

He has not been formally charged, but a Cypriot prosecutor said he expected the suspect would face charges of hijacking, illegal possession of explosives, kidnapping and threats to ­commit violence.

According to the prosecutor, Andreas Lambrianou, Mustafa had told police that he carried out the hijacking in order to see his estranged Cypriot ex-wife.

"What's someone supposed to do when he hasn't seen his wife and children in 24 years and the Egyptian government won't let him?" Mr Lambrianou quoted him as telling investigators.

The statement appears to reinforce earlier reports that Mustafa had grown frustrated that the Egyptian government was barring him from travelling abroad.

After the plane landed at Larnaca airport, Mustafa reportedly demanded to see his ex-wife, who was named in the Cypriot press as Marina Paraschou, a 51-year-old with whom he reportedly had four children.

The court ordered that Mustafa be detained for eight days while formal charges are brought.

It is unclear if Egypt will try to have him extradited back home, where he has a long string of convictions for crimes like theft and impersonation.

If found mentally competent to stand trial, he could face a lengthy prison sentence in either country. Cypriot authorities have said Mustafa was "psychologically unstable" and they do not consider the case to be "terrorism-related".

Mustafa gave the victory symbol from the back of a police vehicle but had the same slightly unsure look captured in a photograph he took with a Ben Innes, a 26-year-old British hostage onboard the aircraft.

Mr Innes' photograph has been posted on social media around the world by people amazed that he would take a photograph with a man claiming to have a suicide vest on.

Mr Innes told The Sun yesterday: "I'm not sure why I did it, I just threw caution to the wind while trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity.

"I figured if his bomb was real I had nothing lose anyway, so I took a chance to get a closer look at it.

"I got one of the cabin crew to translate for me and asked him if I could do a selfie with him.

"He just shrugged 'okay', so I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap. It has to be the best selfie ever."

He said he texted his mother, Pauline, as the drama unfolded, adding: "My mum was obviously frantic with worry and kept telling me not to do anything to draw attention to myself. I didn't know how to tell her I'd already done a selfie with the hijacker."

Recounting the ordeal, he said: "I could see he had what looked like a bomb and I was scared, but he didn't seem particularly anxious as we first landed.

"He eventually let virtually all the passengers leave, but I was left behind with two other Brits.

"After about a half-hour at Larnaca I asked for a photo with him as we were sitting around waiting. I thought, 'Why not? If he blows us all up it won't matter anyway'."

He said cabin crew were allowed to leave before the Egyptian pilot locked himself in the cockpit and climbed out of the window, adding: "We moved towards the door as he went to the back of the plane.

"Then we ran for it, expecting the aircraft to explode. When we got to a safe distance, we laughed out loud with relief." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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