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The Latest: Pilot says hijacker let him pick Cyprus to land

March 30, 2016 GMT

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) — The Latest on the plane hijacking from Alexandria, Egypt, to Cyprus. (all times local):

8 p.m.

The pilot of the hijacked EgyptAir plane says the man threatening to blow up the aircraft let him decide where to head: Cyprus, Greece or Turkey. Cyprus was chosen because it was closest.

The pilot, Amr al-Gammal, has told a Cairo press conference Wednesday that flight attendants sought to reassure the hijacker by offering him drinks and chatting informally. Al-Gammal says he forewarned the hijacker of any aircraft moves, including the lowering of landing gear.

The pilot says: “He gave me more than what I requested. I asked to let the children and the women out. He said he will let all Egyptians out.”

The co-pilot, Ahmed el-Qaddah, says the hijacker told the crew soon after the last of the non-Egyptian hostages walked free: “Five minutes and I will blow up the plane.”

El-Qaddah says while others went out the main exit, he climbed out of the cockpit window and slid down the side of the plane, just as he had been trained to do in such an emergency.



7:15 p.m.

The Dutch passenger aboard the hijacked EgyptAir flight has told The AP that the man’s fake suicide belt looked real enough.

Huub Helthuis, a 56-year-old businessman, says in an Amsterdam telephone interview Wednesday that passengers didn’t know anything was wrong on Tuesday’s diverted Alexandria-to-Cairo flight until flight attendants started going through the cabin to collect passengers’ passports at the hijacker’s behest.

Helthuis says he then saw the Egyptian hijacker sporting an apparently real suicide vest “with the wires and everything. ... The bombs were fake but you couldn’t know that.”

When the aircraft landed in Cyprus, Helthuis says the hijacker told all women passengers to disembark, then all Egyptians. That left Helthuis, two Scots, and Englishman and an Italian on board.

He says the hijacker spoke little English but told him: “Don’t worry. Nothing will happen.”

The Dutchman says he was permitted to telephone his wife from the landed plane, then to leave it alongside the Italian.



6:55 p.m.

An Italian passenger on the hijacked EgyptAir flight had three words for the experience: “Fear, fear, fear.”

Andrea Banchetti spoke to Italian state radio and still appeared shaken when interviewed by Italian state TV.

He tells the Rome daily La Repubblica that at first he thought he had gotten on the wrong flight Tuesday because it was taking too long to go from Alexandria to Cairo. Then, after the hijacked plane landed in Cyprus, Banchetti says non-Western passengers got their passports back and were allowed off the plane. Five foreign passengers were ordered to stay: himself, two Scotsmen, an Englishman and a Dutchman.

At that point, he said: “We looked each other in the eyes and we said, ‘Here we are. We’re at the end of the line. It’s over.’”

The hijacker, 59-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa of Egypt, is in custody in Cyprus.


6:10 p.m.

An EgyptAir stewardess says the man who hijacked her plane checked passengers’ passports to find out who was not an Arab.

Rouida Ihab told The Associated Press that the hijacker “wanted the foreigners ... only foreigners. He didn’t want Egyptians or double nationalities.”

She also says the initial confusion about his identity came about because the hijacker was sitting in a seat that had been assigned to another passenger.

Authorities say Seif Eddin Mustafa, a 59-year-old Egyptian, has admitted hijacking a domestic EgyptAir flight Tuesday and diverting it to Cyprus by threatening to blow it up with a fake explosives belt. He has been detained in Cyprus.


3 p.m.

Egypt has asked Cyprus to extradite the Egyptian man who hijacked an EgyptAir plane.

The request came hours after a Cyprus court on Wednesday ordered eight days of detention for

59-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa, who faces charges including hijacking, illegal possession of explosives, kidnapping and threats to commit violence.

Authorities say Mustafa has admitted to hijacking a domestic EgyptAir flight Tuesday and diverting it to Cyprus by threatening to blow it up with a fake explosives belt.

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.


12:15 p.m.

A British man who was pictured with a man who hijacked an EgyptAir plane says he’s not sure why he posed for the bizarre photo.

Ben Innes told The Sun newspaper he wanted to take “the selfie of a lifetime” while the hijack was unfolding at a Cyprus airport.

The photo of Innes standing next to the hijacker with what looked like an exposed suicide vest went viral on social media within hours. The vest turned out to be fake and all the plane’s passengers and crew were released unharmed Tuesday. The hijacker has been arrested.

Innes, 26, told the newspaper in a story published Wednesday that he had been texting his mother throughout the ordeal. He says “I figured if his bomb was real I’d nothing to lose anyway.”


11:45 a.m.

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.

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.

Tuesday’s dramatic hijacking ended peacefully when police arrested the suspect after all 72 passengers and crew aboard the Airbus A320 plane were released.