A suspected hijacker who used a fake explosive belt to commandeer an Egyptian airliner flashed a victory sign Wednesday after a court in Cyprus ordered him held before possible terrorism-linked charges from an apparent desperate bid to see his estranged family.
Tuesday’s diversion of an EygptAir plane ended after a nearly six-hour standoff at Cyprus’s main airport in Larnaca and included several bizarre moments. In one, a grinning British hostage posed for a photo alongside the 59-year-old hijacker.
In a statement to Cypriot police, the suspect — identified as Seif Eldin Mustafa — described the hijacking as an attempt to make contact with his estranged wife and children, who live on the eastern Mediterranean island.
“When someone hasn’t seen his family for 24 years . . . what should one do?” said Mustafa’s statement, according to the Reuters news agency.
A court in Larnaca ordered him held for eight days while prosecutors study possible charges that include threatening terrorist violence. As he left the courthouse, a handcuffed Mustafa made the V-for-victory sign.
Egypt, meanwhile, wants him back for potential prosecution. The country’s main prosecutor asked Cyprus to extradite Mustafa, Egyptian state TV reported.
Mustafa calmly walked off the plane and surrendered Tuesday after holding a handful of passengers and crew on board. The rest of the 72 people on board had been freed shortly after the plane landed in Cyprus.
Authorities say Mustafa demanded that the domestic Alexandria-to-Cairo flight be diverted to Cyprus, threatening to detonate a belt with explosives. Police later said the device was fake, apparently fashioned from mobile phone covers and wires.
On Tuesday, a Cypriot Foreign Ministry official, Alexandros Zenon, described Mustafa’s mental state as “unstable.”
In Britain, meanwhile, attention shifted to a passenger on the flight, Ben Innes, who posted a smiling “selfie” alongside the hijacker, whose purported bomb belt is visible.
“I figured if his bomb was real, I’d nothing to lose anyway,” Innes was quoted as saying by The Sun newspaper in Britain, “so I took a chance to get a closer look at it.”
Innes, a health and safety inspector from Leeds, said he asked the hijacker if he could take a photo.
“He just shrugged okay,” Innes told the newspaper,”so I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap. It has to be the best selfie ever.”