NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A man who has admitted hijacking a domestic EgyptAir flight and diverting it to Cyprus is requesting 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.
The asylum claim is based on Mustafa's fears about his possible treatment at the hands of Egyptian authorities, said his lawyer, Robertos Vrahimis.
Vrahimis told the AP that he has yet to receive specific instructions from his client because of a dispute with Cyprus Central Prisons authorities over which Arabic-speaking translator to use. The prison authorities only allow a translator approved by them, which Vrahimis says would violate client-attorney privilege.
He says he has sent a letter of complaint asking that he be allowed to bring a translator of his choice.
A court hearing on Mustafa's extradition proceedings is scheduled for April 22. Vrahimis said Cyprus could extradite Mustafa if they don't approve the asylum request.
Cyprus Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told the AP that Egyptian authorities have given written assurances that the suspect won't face the death penalty and that he will be given a fair trial.
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.