An Egyptian man accused of hijacking a passenger plane and diverting it to Cyprus has told police he acted because he wanted to see his estranged wife and children, saying “what should one do?”.
The suspect, whom Cypriot and Egyptian authorities have identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa, 59, surrendered on Tuesday after commandeering a domestic Alexandria-Cairo flight with 72 passengers and crew on board.
A Larnaca court on Wednesday ordered him to be held in custody for eight days on suspicion of hijacking, abduction, threatening violence, terrorism-related offences and two counts related to possession of explosives.
The latter counts were connected to his claim of being strapped with explosives, even though the belt he wore is believed to be fake, a police source told Reuters.
As he left the court compound in a police jeep, Mustafa stuck his hand out of an open window flashing the ‘v’ sign for victory.
Mustafa took charge of the early morning flight by flashing what appears to be a belt stuffed with plastic wires and a remote control, directing it to the holiday island where he asked for the release of female prisoners in Egypt, and to come in contact with his Cypriot ex-wife.
“When someone hasn’t seen his family for 24 years and wants to see his wife and children, and the Egyptian government doesn’t allow it, what should one do?,” he told Cypriot police in a statement.
Details of his claimed predicament were not available.
All hostages were released unharmed after a six-hour standoff.
The suspect allegedly commandeered the aircraft 15 minutes after takeoff from Alexandria. He approached a flight attendant and showed off the belt, attached to a remote control he held in his hand, investigating officer Andreas Lambrianou told the court.
“The suspect asked all passengers and crew to hand in their passports, then gave two messages to a member of the crew, asking that the pilot be informed that he was a hijacker and wanted to land at an airport in Turkey, Greece or Cyprus, but preferably Cyprus,” Lambrianou said.
“In a note, he stressed that if the airplane landed on Egyptian territory he would immediately blow the plane up.”
In Cyprus, Mustafa dropped an envelope on the runway addressed to a Cypriot woman, later ascertained to be his ex-wife. In the letter, the suspect demanded the release of 63 female prisoners held in Egypt.
The man accused of hijacking an EgyptAir plane and forcing it to land in Cyprus was remanded into police custody for eight days during his first court appearance on Wednesday.
Police told the court in Larnaca that 58-year-old Egyptian Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa faces possible charges of hijacking, kidnapping people with the aim of taking them to an unknown destination, reckless and threatening behaviour and offences that breach the anti-terror law.
The accused did not speak in court.
But as he left in a police car, he gave the victory sign to journalists attending the hearing at the courthouse, which is less than a kilometre (half a mile) away from Larnaca airport where the hijacking unfolded on Tuesday.
Mostafa, who has a Cypriot ex-wife, will not face any formal charges until a later hearing and only at that point will he be expected to enter a plea.
Cyprus authorities have described Mostafa as “psychologically unstable” and said the case was not “terrorism-related”.
He is accused of forcing the plane to divert to Larnaca airport on the island’s south coast on Tuesday by threatening to detonate an explosives belt that turned out to be fake.
Authorities allege that his motives were personal and related to his Cypriot ex-wife with whom he is reported to have had children.
The hijacking triggered a six-hour standoff at the airport and the closure of the main entry point for tourists to the Mediterranean resort island.
Most of the 55 passengers on the plane — originally travelling from Alexandria to Cairo — were quickly released after it had landed.
But some escaped only minutes before the standoff ended, including one uniformed man who was seen clambering out of a cockpit window and dropping to the ground.