A man who has admitted hijacking a domestic EgyptAir flight and diverting it to Cyprus is claiming political asylum on the island, claiming he is afraid of how he could be treated by Egyptian authorities because of his political beliefs, officials said Wednesday.
Cyprus' Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos told The Associated Press that 59-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa's asylum claim is being examined while a request by Egyptian authorities for his extradition proceeds.
Mustafa's lawyer, Robertos Vrahimis, said the asylum claim is grounded in his client's fears about his possible treatment at the hands of Egyptian authorities.
Vrahimis told the AP that he has yet to receive specific instructions from his client because Cyprus Central Prisons authorities will only allow an Arabic-speaking translator they approve themselves. Vrahimis said this would violate client-attorney privilege and he has already sent a letter of complaint asking that he be allowed to bring a translator of his choice.
Vrahimis said Cyprus could extradite Mustafa despite his asylum claim unless authorities grant his request. A court hearing on Mustafa's extradition proceedings is scheduled for April 22.
A police prosecutor told a court last month that Mustafa had insisted during the six-hour hijacking that a letter be delivered to his Cypriot ex-wife in which he demanded the release of 63 dissident women imprisoned in Egypt.
Mustafa — described by Cypriot authorities as "psychologically unstable" — forced the Airbus A320 to land in Cyprus' main Larnaca airport by threatening to blow it up with a fake suicide belt on March 29. He was arrested when he stepped off the plane after all 72 passengers and crew were released unharmed.