Cyprus court issues extradition orders for EgyptAir hijacker

A Cyprus court ordered the extradition of Seif Eddin Mostafa, the Egyptian national who hijacked EgyptAir flight MS181 in March, back to his home country pursuant to a request made by the Egyptian government.

A district court in the Cypriot capital Nicosia issued the orders on Friday, and the 59-year-old is expected to be returned to Egypt within ten days, the Associated Press (AP) reported citing the court’s chief justice, Judge Dona Constantinou. Until then he will remain in police custody.

The flight was initially traveling from Alexandria to Cairo until Mostafa, wearing a fake explosives belt, threatened to blow up the aircraft along with its 56 passengers and seven crew members, forcing it to reroute to Lacarna International Airport in Cyprus. Nobody on the flight was injured. Ever since the incident authorities in Cairo have been demanding his return to Egypt, citing a 1996 bilateral extradition treaty between the two countries.

The privately owned Youm7 newspaper wrote that upon his return, Mostafa will be transferred to the office of the West Alexandria District Prosecutor for interrogations. Citing Egyptian legal specialists the newspaper reports that he will most likely be charged with hijacking a passenger plane, taking hostages, breaching air traffic laws and threatening public security. If found guilty he faces up to 25 years imprisonment, or even the death penalty.

Mostafa and his lawyer, Robertos Brahimis, are attempting to appeal against the extradition order, claiming the defendant is at risk of torture, abuse and even death at the hands of Egyptian security forces upon his return to the country, according to AP.

Brahimis stated that his client had hijacked the flight MS181 at an attempt to highlight the injustices of Egypt’s military-backed government, adding that his client had no intention of harming anyone aboard the aircraft.

Initially AP and Reuters reported that Mostafa used the hijacking as a means to seek contact with his Cypriot ex-wife, and request the release of female prisoners in Egypt.

Despite Mostafa’s appeal against the extradition, Judge Constantinou ruled that he should be sent back to his home country. According to AP the judge found that Mustafa had “never abandoned Egypt, and continued to live there even after being issued a legitimate passport,” adding that he had failed to persuade the court that Egypt’s ruling authorities had previously persecuted him for his political views.

The extradition ruling is reported to have been made on the basis that the defendant’s previous incarcerations in Egypt were related to the use of forged passports, not his politics. Mostafa was also arrested for an alleged hijacking attempt in Libya, in 1998 according to his sister.

The hijacking is not the only incident to have damaged the Egyptian aviation and tourism sector of late.  A Russian passenger plane was downed on October 31, 2015, exploding over the Sinai Peninsula and killing all 224 people on board, leading to the suspension of all commercial flights between Russia and Egypt.

The suspension came after Russian aviation experts and investigators found that the aircraft was brought down by an explosive device in an act of terrorism. A Sinai-based affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility.

Another aviation disaster occurred on May 19 of this year when EgyptAir flight MS804 disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea, claiming the lives of all 66 passengers and crew aboard. Data from the two recovered black boxes revealed the presence of smoke in a lavatory situated by the aircraft’s cockpit. Investigations are ongoing to identify the specific cause of the incident.

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