CYPRUS: EgyptAir hijacker could face life sentence

Seif el-Din Moustafa-Eman, an army veteran who had separated from his Cypriot wife almost 20 years ago and was deported from the island, faces charges of piracy, illegal possession of explosives, abduction and terrorism.

He had hijacked the domestic flight MS181, en route from Alexandria to Cairo and threatened to blow up the plane with his bomb vest, which eventually tuned out to be a fake. All 72 passengers and crew were unharmed.

Having released almost all the passengers on board, he stepped out of the plane that had been parked at the end of the tarmac at Larnaca airport, and in his attempt to flee, was caught by Cyprus police. Officials said that although the hijack was of an Egyptian aircraft, his attempt to escape technically made him liable to Cyprus law as he stepped on Cyprus soil and will face justice here.

It is not yet known if Egypt will seek his extradition, but this cannot happen until he is tried and sentenced by a Cyprus court first.

The hijacked airplane and its crew returned home before dawn on Wednesday, while another EgyptAir flight had arrived earlier to return some 40 passengers to Egypt. The remaining passengers had opted to continue onward to their final destinations using other airlines.

In statements after the incident, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said Cypriot authorities acted in full coordination with the government of Egypt adding that the country’s ambassador was present at the crisis management centre right from the beginning.

Their primary concern was to ensure the safety of all passengers, a goal which was achieved, he noted.

Kasoulides said that during negotiations with the Egyptian hijacker, it became evident that it was not an act of terrorism. He described the person as being in an unstable psychological state.

UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Philip Hammond and Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry expressed their gratitude to the Cypriot authorities for their handling of the hijacking incident.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had a telephone conversation with President Nicos Anastasiades following the ending of the hijacking incident.

Government Spokesman Nikos Christodoulides wrote on his twitter account that President Sisi thanked his counterpart for Cyprus’ effective handling of the hijacking incident.

Having been locked down for most of the day, with stranded passengers shuttled to Paphos airport, Larnaca airport eventually opened on Tuesday at 4.30pm.

In earlier statements at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the presence of Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides and Justice and Public Order Minister Ionas Nicolaou as well as Egyptian Ambassador in Nicosia Hussein Abdelkarim Tantawy Mubarak, Kasoulides said Cypriot authorities acted in full coordination with the government of Egypt.

Kasoulides confirmed that two C-130 transport aircraft from Egypt arrived in Cyprus to help, but their contribution was not necessary.

He said that Cyprus was convinced to let the hijacked aircraft land in Cyprus, due to fuel shortage.

The hijack revised dark memories from February 1978, where Larnaca became the scene of the bloodiest battle when Egyptian commandoes tried to storm a plane that terrorists had taken refuge and sought to leave.

The gunmen had earlier assassinated prominent Egyptian newspaper editor Yousef El Sebai, a close friend of President Anwar Sadat, who ordered his elite Task Force 777 troops to capture the gunmen as the Cypriot forces were unable to rescue the hostages.

The botched rescue attempt resulted in confusion on the tarmac and 15 Egyptian troops were killed by friendly fire, causing a serious rift in relations between Cyprus and Egypt, that were only restored a decade ago. At the time, riots broke out in front of the Cypriot embassy in Cairo and Sadat harshly criticised President Spyros Kyprianou, allegedly coining the phrase “political dwarf”.

Source: Financial Mirror