Asian students forced to deny airline mutiny was a set-up

During the terror alert, they provided a headline-writer's dream: two Asian men removed from a holiday flight to Britain after a "mutiny" from fellow passengers convinced they were Islamic terrorists.

The story of Sohail Ashraf and Khurram Zeb did not end on the runway of Malaga's airport, though.

Yesterday, the 22-year-old students were forced to deny being involved in an elaborate publicity stunt.

In a series of media interviews, the pair were accused of deliberately behaving suspiciously in order to be ejected from Monarch Airlines flight ZB613 to Manchester last Wednesday, a charge they deny.

Asked by the BBC's Newsnight interviewer Emily Maitlis if he had been involved in "some sort of student hoax", Mr Zeb replied: "No, no, no, no... Um... We were not doing anything intentionally. We were behaving ordinary."

When GMTV's host Penny Smith said to the pair, "What would you say to cynics who might say this was all a bit of a stunt?", she was met with a long, pregnant pause. "Stunt? To... For... All I can say to that is... I don't know," said Mr Zeb. "I wouldn't have thought of that. It's a bit weird."

Mr Ashraf and Mr Zeb were removed from the late-night Airbus A320 by order of the captain, who had been contacted by several passengers worried by their appearance and behaviour after they boarded the plane. They were said to have been talking loudly in Urdu, and wearing suspiciously heavy clothes. When the airline looked into details of their itinerary, the pair were detained pending further security checks.

Although Muslim groups initially condemned Monarch's actions, details of the pair's itinerary obtained by The Independent appear to endorse the airline's decision to treat them with suspicion.

Industry sources revealed they booked their flights after the recent security scare began on 10 August, paying £166 each for the day-trip to Malaga. Although they have claimed that the purpose of the visit was to carry out research for a holiday in September, the pair decided to take an evening flight to the resort. It touched down at 7.25pm, leaving them just a few hours in Malaga before they had to check in for the 3am return journey.

"It sticks out like a sore thumb, since most people would take an early morning flight out for a day-trip abroad," said one aviation insider. "These two took the third flight that Monarch ran from Manchester to Malaga that day. Given the heightened security on UK airlines, a day-trip to Malaga would be an unusual way to wind down. And if, as they told Radio 5 Live, they wanted to 'check the place out', why did they choose to do so in the dark?"

After news of their story broke in the Sunday newspapers, Mr Ashraf and Mr Zeb were tracked down by the Daily Mirror, which is understood to have offered a four-figure sum for their exclusive story. That ran on Wednesday, following which they gave a number of TV and radio interviews, for which they were paid appearance fees of several hundred pounds.

Mr Ashraf and Mr Zeb have claimed to be students at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST). They were due to be sitting exams yesterday morning, and therefore unavailable for further interviews.

However a spokesman for UMIST would neither confirm nor deny that Mr Ashraf and Mr Zeb were undergraduates. The university is closed until September. "We are aware that this has been said, but we can't go into details about our position on it," said the UMIST spokesman. "What I would say is that exam time was several months ago. The only exams that could possibly be going on this week would be resits, but we have no knowledge of those."

Sources on the Daily Mirror played down suggestions they had bought into a publicity stunt. "These two aren't being greedy, they're not being lucrative," said a source. "They could have made a lot more money from a front-page story, and didn't even force us to sign a contract. If this was a prank to make money, they could have done far better from it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms