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Ethiopia co-pilot hijacker seeks Swiss asylum

17 February 2014, 14:54

Geneva - The co-pilot of an Ethiopian Airlines plane flying from Addis Ababa to Rome hijacked the aircraft on Monday and forced it to land in Geneva where he wanted to seek asylum, police said.

The hijacker was arrested after he scaled out of the cockpit window on a rope, Geneva police spokesperson Eric Grandjean said, adding that the situation was now under control.

The co-pilot said he had seized his chance to take over the plane when the pilot went to the bathroom, Grandjean told AFP.

The man, identified as an Ethiopian citizen born in 1983, told police he had seized the aircraft because "he felt threatened in his country and wants to seek asylum in Switzerland," he added.

A total of 202 passengers and crew members were on board the Boeing 767 as the drama played out but Grandjean said no-one was injured.

Asylum chances

The hijacker contacted Geneva Airport and said "he had a problem with his plane and needed to land to fill the tank with kerosene... and that he had technical problems with the engine," Grandjean said.

He then said he had hijacked the plane, Grandjean said, adding that Geneva airport had allowed him to land "for safety reasons" and that the plane had been escorted by fighter jets from Italian airspace.

Flight ET-702 eventually landed safely in Geneva at 06:02 (0502 GMT).

"He parked the plane on the taxiway, he cut the engines then opened the cockpit window, threw out a rope and used it to descend to the tarmac," Grandjean said.

"He ran towards the police and immediately identified himself as the co-pilot and hijacker."

The runway was crowded with police and other emergency vehicles as passengers filed out of the plane with their arms up in the air or on their heads before boarding waiting buses.

"The passengers are safe and sound," Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement in Addis Ababa.

It was the first time since 1987 that a hijacked plane has been forced to land in Geneva, according to police, and the first time in Swiss history that a co-pilot had hijacked an aircraft.

Ethiopian Information Minister Redwan Hussein said officials were investigating the incident and trying to get information from passengers.

Geneva's chief prosecutor Olivier Jornot cast doubt on the co-pilot's chances of gaining asylum in Switzerland after the incident.

"Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here. But I think his chances are not very high," he told reporters.

All flights to and from Geneva were either diverted or cancelled early on Monday as the drama was unfolding but the airport was now gradually reopening, a spokesperson said.



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