A Cyprus court on Wednesday ordered the detention for eight days of an Egyptian man who admitted to hijacking a domestic EgyptAir flight and diverting it to the east Mediterranean island nation by threatening to blow it up with a fake explosives belt.
- EgyptAir MS181 hijacker had personal, not political motives
- EgyptAir hijacking rare occurrence in post-911 world
- British hostage takes 'selfie' with his captor on EgyptAir flight
Police prosecutor Andreas Lambrianou said the suspect, whom Cypriot and Egyptian authorities had earlier identified as 59-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa, faces charges including hijacking, illegal possession of explosives, kidnapping and threats to commit violence.
Judge Maria Loizou said she found the police's request for the maximum eight-day detention necessary because of fears that the suspect might flee and the fact that he admitted to the hijacking in a voluntary statement to police.
Egyptian General Prosecutor Nabil Sadek's office says he has asked Cyprus to "take necessary measures to extradite Mustafa in order to start an investigation," according to a statement.
Tuesday's dramatic hijacking ended peacefully when police arrested the suspect after all 72 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus A320 aircraft were released. Police said apart from the eight-member crew and 56 passengers of various nationalities, a further eight EgyptAir crew were aboard the aircraft as passengers.
Lambrianou said that the suspect told police after his arrest: "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?"
Long criminal record
An official at the general prosecutor's office in Egypt, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said there was no travel ban on Mustafa. Egypt's interior ministry said he had a long criminal record but had finished serving a one-year prison term in March 2015.
A handcuffed Mustafa flashed the "V" for victory sign with his hand out of a police vehicle as he was driven away from the Larnaca court house after the hearing.
Cypriot officials had described Mustafa as "psychologically unstable" following a bizarre set of demands he made to police negotiators, including what Lambrianou said was a letter he wanted delivered to his Cypriot ex-wife in which he demanded the release of 63 dissident women imprisoned in Egypt.
Lambrianou said that 15 minutes into flight MS181 from the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria to Cairo, the suspect demanded that the aircraft be diverted to airports in either Greece, Turkey or Cyprus. The aircraft eventually landed in Larnaca after the pilots warned of low fuel, and despite an initial refusal from Cypriot authorities on the landing request.
Passenger takes 'selfie'
The police prosecutor said witnesses saw the suspect wearing a white belt around his waist laden with cylindrical objects stuffed in pockets. Wire protruding from the cylinders led to what appeared to be a "push-button" detonator the suspect held in his hand.
Among those held was Ben Innes, a British man pictured in a photo with Mustafa that quickly made the rounds on social media.
'I figured if his bomb was real I'd nothing to lose anyway.' - Ben Innes, passenger who took photo with hijacker on plane
Innes told The Sun newspaper he wanted to take "the selfie of a lifetime" while the incident was unfolding. The photo, taken by a member of the cabin crew and shared on social media by people who know him, shows him posing next to Mustafa, who has his jacket open to reveal the fake explosive belt.
"I figured if his bomb was real I'd nothing to lose anyway," Innes, 26, told the newspaper in a story published Wednesday. He told The Sun he had been texting his mother throughout the ordeal.
The suspect had threatened to detonate the belt if police attempted to "neutralize" him, Lambrianou said, but he eventually gave up after the crew and passengers were released.
Lambrianou said no explosives were found in the belt, except for a container filled with an unidentified liquid. Police also found an unidentified liquid in the suspect's bag as well as numerous documents written in Arabic.
The prosecutor said Cypriot authorities will ask the help of Interpol to determine how the suspect managed to pass the fake explosives belt through airport security in Egypt.