September 30, 2016 - 3:00 AM
NICOSIA, Cyprus - A Cyprus court on Friday approved a request from the Egyptian government to extradite a man who hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight with a fake suicide belt and diverted it to Cyprus.
Judge Dona Constantinou ordered that Egyptian Seif Eddin Mustafa be extradited within 10 days and remain in police custody until then. Mustafa's lawyer Robertos Brahimis told The Associated Press that he's been instructed by his client to appeal the decision.
Mustafa claims he hijacked the EgyptAir jet in March to underscore the wrongs done by Egypt's military-backed government and that he meant no harm to anyone. The hijack ended peacefully after all 72 passengers and crew were released and Mustafa was arrested.
Mustafa has fought his extradition, saying he fears that he could be tortured or even killed at the hands of Egyptian authorities if he's sent back.
But Constantinou rejected Mustafa's argument, saying the 59-year-old had opted to stay in Egypt despite his claims that the country doesn't respect human rights.
"He never abandoned Egypt and continued to live there even after being issued a legitimate passport," Constantinou said in her 42-page decision. Mustafa showed no emotion as he listened to a translation of the judge's decision.
Constantinou said Mustafa failed to persuade the court that Egyptian authorities had ever persecuted him for his political beliefs. She said that he never specified any recent actions, participation in protests or that he has been tried on charges relating to his politics.
His numerous incarcerations in Egypt had to do with his use of forged passports for travelling outside the country, said the judge.
In 20 pages of testimony last June, Mustafa repeatedly denounced the Egyptian government for mounting a coup against the "freely and democratically elected" Islamist President Mohammed Morsi but denied being a supporter of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.
In his testimony, Mustafa spoke at length about his involvement from the mid-1970s with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Marxist-Leninist Democratic Front of Palestine as well as with factions opposed to Egypt's peace accord with Israel. Another reason he gave for committing the hijacking was to demand the release of 63 female dissidents being held in Egyptian prisons.
But judge Constantinou said Mustafa had admitted cutting off ties with pro-Palestinian groups in 1990 and that he failed to convince the court of his connection with the female dissidents.
Constantinou said Mustafa faces hijacking charges in Egypt that don't carry the death penalty. Cypriot officials said during the proceedings that Egyptian authorities had given formal assurances Mustafa would receive a fair trial and have all his rights respected.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016