Lawyer says plane hijacker wanted to highlight Egypt injustices
NICOSIA - An Egyptian man who hijacked a plane and forced it to be diverted to Cyprus did so to draw attention to injustices in his homeland, his lawyer said Monday.
A Cypriot court is to decide on the extradition of Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa, 58, to Egypt which has requested he face trial under a bilateral agreement.
Mostafa is accused of using a fake suicide belt to seize the plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo and redirect it to the Mediterranean island on March 29.
According to police, Mostafa voluntarily admitted to the hijacking that ended peacefully with his arrest and the release of the 55 passengers after a six-hour standoff.
In a Nicosia court on Monday, his lawyer Robertos Vrahimi argued that under the bilateral agreement those accused cannot be extradited for political crimes.
"The crew on the plane was told that the action was against the injustices the people in Egypt suffer, and thus the act was targeting the government of Egypt," said Vrahimi.
Both the pilot and co-pilot had given statements as part of the extradition that indicated the Airbus A320 had been hijacked in a politically motivated act against Egypt's government, he said.
Mostafa is fighting his extradition on the grounds he will not receive a fair trial in Egypt, arguing he could be tortured or face the death penalty if sent back.
His request for asylum has been refused as Cypriot authorities deem him a "perpetrator of serious crimes".
The Cypriot justice ministry says Egypt has given assurances of a fair trial and that the extradition request has nothing to do with politics.
But Vrahimi argued that the pledge could not be taken at face value.
He said the suppression of human rights in Egypt was a "well-known fact" which had been highlighted by Amnesty International.
Mostafa, described by authorities as psychologically unstable, is expected to give evidence at a later stage.
Proceedings were adjourned until June 17.