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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine