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Cyprus extradites Egyptian hijacker who dropped legal fight

Cyprus extradites Egyptian hijacker who dropped legal fight
Seif Eddin Mustafa, center, arrives in a court in Nicosia, Cyprus, in April 2016. The Egyptian who said he hijacked an EgyptAir plane to protest his nation's government has been extradited back to his home country. (Petros Karadjias / Associated Press)

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 said Mustafa's extradition went ahead after he dropped a three-year court battle to avoid extradition.

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On Sunday, Egyptian prosecutors ordered Mustafa to remain in detention for 15 days pending an investigation into the 2016 hijacking, Egypt's state-run MENA news agency reported.

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 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 said the statement was “purposeful misinformation” from the Cypriot and Egyptian governments meant to discredit him.

Doros Polycarpou, with the migrant support group KISA, which assisted Mustafa, said 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. Mustafa said he had been held in isolation in Cyprus and wanted to escape the “psychological strain,” according to Polycarpou.

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 inhumane 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.”

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