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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower