Threats to family forced me to act, claims 'hijacker'

War on Terrorism: Old Bailey
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An Afghan man accused of hijacking a plane and holding its passengers hostage at Stansted airport in Essex admitted yesterday that he was not proud of what he had done but insisted his family were in danger.

Ali Safi, a 38-year-old former university lecturer who was described as the leader of the hijack group, told an Old Bailey jury: "I do accept all the responsibility for this hijacking. I am not proud of it but we did it because we had to.

"There was no alternative left for us. If we had stayed in Afghanistan me and my family would have been killed."

The jury heard that Mr Safi and nine other men hijacked an Ariana Air internal flight, with 165 people on board, in February last year and brought it to Britain. After a three-day stand-off they gave themselves up and claimed asylum.

Mr Safi denies hijacking, false imprisonment and possession of firearms and explosives on the grounds that he was forced to take the action to save his life.

He told the jury that he and members of his pro-democracy organisation, the Young Intellectuals of Afghanistan, had been forced to flee the country.

Mr Safi said they had initially planned to fly to Switzerland but the Afghan pilots could not understand the Russian maps given to them at their first stop, Tashkent, where they refuelled and let off a handful of sick passengers. Instead, Mr Safi said, he persuaded them to fly to the "mother of democracy" Britain despite his group's fears of the SAS.

Mr Safi, Abdul Shohab, 21, Taimur Shah, 28, Muhammed Kazim, 27, Reshad Ahmodi, 23, Nazamuddin Mohammidy, 27, Abdul Ghayur, 24, Mohammed Showaib, 25, Khalil Ullah, 31, and Mohammed Safi, 33, all deny hijacking. They and Waheed Lutfi, 22, all deny false imprisonment and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, and possession of explosives.

The trial continues.