Egypt’s public prosecutor has asked Cypriot authorities to hand over an Egyptian man accused of hijacking a passenger Egyptair plane and diverting it to Cyprus, Egyptian state television reported on Wednesday.
According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, a statement from the office of the Egyptian general prosecutor, Nabil Sadek, said he had asked Cyprus to “take necessary measures to extradite [Seif Eldin] Mustafa in order to start an investigation”. But Nicos Christodoulides, the Cypriot government spokesman, told the paper: “It’s not true, we don’t have such a request. And to be honest with you, it would not be normal to have such a request when a police investigation is ongoing.”
News of the request came just hours after the 59-year-old suspect was remanded in custody for eight days.
Amidst tight security and a courtroom buzzing with foreign and local press, Mustafa appeared in Larnaca court without a lawyer and did not object to the remand order.
The court heard that after Mustafa was arrested on Tuesday, he explained to officers that his need to see his family was the reason he felt compelled to take such drastic action.
“When someone hasn’t seen his family for 24 years and wants to see his wife and children and the Egyptian government does not allow him to, what should he do?” he told police. He also made a series of other claims as to his motivation which police said they needed to investigate further.
The hijacker had four children with his ex wife who is Cypriot. One of their children died 10 years ago. Mustafa left the island in 1994.
None of the passengers and crew was harmed in the hijack. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew were on board the Airbus 320.
The EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Larnaca by Mustafa, with what authorities said was a fake suicide belt, who was arrested after giving himself up. The airport was forced to close for hours, seriously disrupting flights.
The court heard that the control tower was not initially informed by the plane’s pilot that a hijack was under way, so they did not grant permission for landing. It was only after the pilot claimed they were low on fuel that permission was granted.
The suspect, 15 minutes into the flight got up from his seat and went to the back of the aircraft where he showed a crew member the belt he was wearing which had cylinders attached and wires that led to a remote he was holding.
He then asked all passengers to surrender their passports, the court was told, and he gave a note to a crew member, asking them to inform the pilot that he was a hijacker and that he wanted him to land the plane either in Turkey, Greece or Cyprus, preferably the latter.
In the note, he said that if the plane landed on Egyptian territory he would blow up the whole plane.
After the plane landed at the Larnaca Airport, at around 8.40 am., he handed over a envelope with the name and details of a Cypriot woman – who the media are naming only as Marina – his former wife.
Inside was a letter which demanded the release of 63 women who are detained for their political views in Egyptian prisons.
During negotiations with the police and after he allowed the release of several passengers, he threatened to push the button of the remote he was holding and blow himself up.
A crew member told police that they believed there were explosives in his belt and that he appeared as a “stable and commandeering person,” and that he would carry out his threat, the court heard.
At around 2.45 pm, and after all passengers were released, the suspect exited the aircraft and tried to escape, but was arrested for hijacking.
Upon his arrest, police discovered that there were no explosives in his belt, but it was sent for lab tests, along with a container with a liquid substance that was also attached to the belt.
During a body search, a number of symbols were found tattooed on his body, court heard, which will too be investigated.
On board the plane, police also located a bag belonging to the 59-year old containing a number of documents written in Arabic, and bottle containing a liquid which was sent for further tests.
The suspect cooperated with the police and agreed to answer to their questions.
Police expect to receive around 40 more reports from the hijacked plane’s crew and passengers, relatives of the suspect in Cyprus and Egypt, and other people involved in the incident. Twenty-three statements have already been made.
An investigation will also be carried out, in cooperation with INTERPOL, the court heard, as to how the suspect was able to carry to the aircraft all the items found in his possession.
Police justified their request for his remand on the grounds that if released, he might influence testimonies of people the police aim to speak to, but also there were fears that he might disappear.
While leaving the court, Mustafa made a gesture with two fingers, raising them to indicate the V for Victory sign.
Mustafa faces charges for hijacking, the illegal possession of explosives, abduction, threat of violence, attempt to cause bodily harm with the use of explosives, reckless behaviour, and offences relating to the violation of the laws on terrorism and civil aviation.