Cyprus extradites Egyptian hijacker who dropped legal fight

In this image taken in April 22, 2016, EgyptAir plane hijacking suspect Seif Eddin Mustafa, center, with a t-shirt reading “Cici Killer,” is escorted by Cyprus police officers as he arrives in a court in capital Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)
Updated 20 August 2018

Cyprus extradites Egyptian hijacker who dropped legal fight

  • Police said Seif Eddin Mustafa, escorted by Egyptian authorities, boarded an EgyptAir flight to Cairo on Saturday evening
  • Seif Eddin Mustafa hijacked the EgyptAir flight in March 2016 using a fake suicide belt and diverted it to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus

NICOSIA: An Egyptian man who hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight in 2016 and ordered it to land in Cyprus has been extradited to his homeland after giving up a drawn-out legal fight, authorities said Sunday.
Seif Eddin Mustafa was transferred to Egyptian custody and flown back to Egypt late Saturday, where prosecutors are investigating the incident. Cyprus Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told The Associated Press that Mustafa’s extradition went ahead after he dropped a three-year court battle to avoid extradition.
Mustafa had challenged extradition on the grounds that he could face torture or an unfair trial in Egypt.
Mustafa hijacked the EgyptAir flight in March 2016 using a fake suicide belt and diverted it to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. A six-hour standoff with Cypriot authorities on the tarmac of Cyprus’ Larnaca airport ended peacefully after all 72 passengers and crew were released and Mustafa was arrested.
Mustafa told a Cypriot court that he meant no harm to anyone. He said he was trying to expose what he called the “fascist regime” of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and to help secure the release of 63 female dissidents being held in Egyptian prisons.
But prosecutors said Mustafa admitted in a written statement to police that he only carried out the hijacking in order to reunite with his Cypriot family, from whom he had been estranged for 24 years. Mustafa dismissed the written statement as “purposeful misinformation” by the Cypriot and Egyptian governments put out to discredit him.
Doros Polycarpou, with the migrant support group KISA that assisted Mustafa, told the AP that the 62-year-old decided of his own accord to return to Egypt and face prosecution there, despite fears that he may be tortured. Egypt and Cyprus have a 1996 extradition treaty.
Polycarpou said Mustafa told his legal team he was willing “to take the risk” of suffering mistreatment at the hands of Egyptian authorities because he could “no longer take” his holding conditions in Cyprus’ prison complex.
He said Mustafa had complained that he was being held in “isolation” and put under “psychological strain” because authorities kept him away from the prison’s general population.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights blocked Cyprus from extraditing Mustafa until it could rule on whether doing so would violate its prohibition on returning individuals to countries where they may face torture or inhuman treatment.
Cyprus’ Justice Ministry said Sunday that Mustafa had fired his lawyer and expressed a wish to return to Egypt. It added that Egyptian authorities gave assurances that Mustafa would “face legal proceedings commensurate with international standards.”


Outsider, jailed tycoon top Tunisian presidential vote

Updated 21 sec ago

Outsider, jailed tycoon top Tunisian presidential vote

  • The premier’s popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and a high cost of living
  • The election follows an intense campaign beset by personality clashes

TUNIS, Tunisia: A jailed media magnate and an independent outsider appeared likely to face off in Tunisia’s presidential runoff, after a roller coaster first-round race in the country that unleashed the Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings.

Official preliminary results are expected in the next couple of days from Sunday’s voting, in which corruption, unemployment and Islamic extremism were among key campaign issues. A second-round vote is expected by Oct. 13, the electoral commission chief said.

An exit poll by agency Sigma Conseil forecast what would be a surprising result: A top showing of 19.5% for independent Rais Saied, a constitutional law professor without a party.

Tycoon Nabil Karoui, jailed since last month on money laundering and tax evasion charges, was predicted to come in second with 15.5%, according to the poll.

Karoui’s supporters quickly declared victory, and his wife Salwa said his legal team is pushing for his release as soon as Monday. She read a letter he wrote from jail in which he said the apparent results reflected “the Tunisian people’s wish to see change, to say no to injustice, no to poverty, no to marginalization and yes to a fair state.”

The polling agency projected the candidate of moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, Abdelfattah Mourou, would come in third, followed by Defense Minister Abdeldrim Zbidi and then Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who had been considered a top contender.

Sigma Conseil said it questioned 38,900 people at 778 of Tunisia’s 4,554 polling stations, spread out over 27 of the country’s 33 regions. It claimed the poll had a margin of error of 1%.

The electoral commission announced that overall turnout was a relatively low 45%. If no candidate wins more than 50% of Sunday’s vote, the election goes to a second round. The exact date of the runoff will be announced once the final first-round results are declared.

Both Saied and Karoui promised to fight unemployment, a key problem in Tunisia that also helped drive its 2011 revolution.

Saied has no political background but notably picked up support among young voters with his straightforward, anti-system image and constitutional law background. Corruption frustrates many voters, which might have increased the appeal of an outsider candidate.

Karoui meanwhile positioned himself as the candidate of the poor, notably using his TV network to raise money for charity. His arrest appears to have mobilized voters in the struggling provinces or those who feel sidelined in the Tunisian economy. Karoui was allowed to remain in the race because he has not been convicted.

The voting followed a noisy but brief campaign — 12 days — marked by backbiting and charges of corruption among the contenders. All vowed to boost the country’s flagging economy and protect it from further deadly attacks by Islamist extremists.

Tunisia is in many ways an exception in the Arab world, with its budding democracy lurching forward despite challenges. Some 6,000 Tunisian and international observers, including from the European Union and the United States, monitored the vote.

More than 100,000 security forces were on guard Sunday as 7 million registered voters were called to the polls. Military surveillance was especially tight in border regions near Algeria and Libya where Islamist extremists are active.

Sunday’s election follows the death in office in July of the nation’s first democratically elected leader, Beji Caid Essebsi. His widow, Chadlia Saida Farhat, died Sunday at age 83, as Tunisians were voting.

This is only the second democratic presidential election that Tunisia has seen since the 2011 popular uprising brought down autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered uprisings across the Arab world.

“The most important thing is that the vote be transparent ... and reflect the choice of voters,” said retired journalist Radhia Ziadi, alluding to the days when Ben Ali won election after election with well over 90% of the votes.

Tunis voter Sonia Juini summed up the overall sentiment as she cast her ballot, expressing hope the new president would make Tunisia more secure and “improve living conditions and take care of marginalized areas.”

Tunisia is also holding its parliamentary election on Oct. 6, another challenge since the new president’s success will depend on having support in parliament.