Ethiopian Airlines Hijacker Identified, Seeks Asylum in Switzerland

GENEVA/ ADDIS ABABA,  (Reuters) – The co-pilot of a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines flight surrendered to Swiss authorities in Geneva on Monday after commandeering his aircraft to seek asylum in Switzerland, police said.

The plane’s second-in-command, named by Ethiopia as Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, 31, took control of the plane when the pilot left the cockpit to use the toilet.

After landing, Hailemedhin left the aircraft via a cockpit window, without harming passengers or crew, police spokesman Pierre Grangean told a news conference. He was not carrying a weapon.

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“Just after landing, the co-pilot came out of the cockpit and ran to the police and said, ‘I’m the hijacker.’ He said he is not safe in his own country and wants asylum,” Grangean said.

The opposition and rights campaigners in Ethiopia accuse the government of stifling dissent and torturing political detainees. But it is rare for state officials and employees – Ethiopian Airlines is run by the state – to seek asylum. The last senior official to do so fled to the United States in 2009.

Ethiopia said Hailemedhin had worked for Ethiopian Airlines for the past five years and had no criminal record.

“So far it was known that he was medically sane, until otherwise he is proven through the investigation which is going on right now,” Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Horn of Africa’s government, told a news conference.

Redwan said Ethiopia may ask for his extradition.

Ethiopian Airlines pilots had visas to travel freely to Europe, he said, adding that it made no sense to hijack one’s own plane given “that the anti-hijacking law in any country is severe” and can lead to up to 20 years in prison.

Redwan said among the 193 passengers on board the Boeing aircraft were 139 Italians, 11 American and four French nationals. As the left the plane, police the passengers as they held their hands on their necks, a Reuters witness said… Read More on Reuters

 

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