An Egyptian man who hijacked an EgyptAir flight and ordered it to land in Cyprus has been extradited after giving up a drawn-out legal fight, authorities have said.
Cyprus Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou told The Associated Press news agency that Seif el-Din Mustafa was transferred to Egyptian custody and flown back to Cairo on Saturday where prosecutors were investigating the incident.
Nicolaou said the extradition went ahead after Mustafa dropped a three-year court battle to avoid extradition.
The 61-year-old had previously challenged extradition on the grounds that he could face torture or an unfair trial in Egypt.
He hijacked the flight, an EgyptAir domestic flight from Alexandria to Cairo in March 2016, using a fake suicide belt.
He surrendered to Cypriot authorities nearly six hours after he landed, having gradually released all 72 passengers and crew unharmed.
An airhostess and Ben Innes, one of the passengers on board, even took a photo with Mustafa, which was later posted on social media.
Mustafa told a Cypriot court that he didn’t mean to harm anyone and was trying to help secure the release of 63 female dissidents being held in Egyptian prisons and expose what he called the “fascist regime” of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
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 dismissed the written statement as “purposeful misinformation” by the Cypriot and Egyptian governments put out to discredit him.
Doros Polycarpou, with the migrant support group KISA that assisted Mustafa, told the AP news agency that the Mustafa 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.
Polycarpou said Mustafa told his legal team he was willing “to take the risk” of suffering mistreatment at the hands of Egyptian authorities because he could “no longer take” his holding conditions in Cyprus’ prison complex.
He said Mustafa had complained that he was being held in “isolation” and put under “psychological strain” because authorities kept him away from the prison’s general population.
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 inhuman treatment.