Innocent passenger named as hijacker

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The Independent Online
THE SOMALI passenger wrongly identified as the hijacker of a Lufthansa airliner demanded a public apology yesterday from the FBI and the German airline.

Farah Siyad Shuriye, 31, was misidentified for several hours on Thursday by the FBI and the German Interior Ministry as the gunman who commandeered Lufthansa Flight 592 with 104 people aboard. The Airbus destined for Egypt and Ethiopia was taken on an 11-hour, 5,600-mile odyssey that began in Frankfurt and ended peacefully at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York on Thursday.

The hijacker was later identified as Nebiu Zewolde Demeke, 20, an Ethiopian living in Morocco. Zewolde, who asked for asylum in the United States, was arraigned yesterday on charges of air piracy. But until the mistake was cleared up, Mr Shuriye was identified as the hijacker in international news reports. Yesterday, he complained that the FBI had ignored his plea for a public apology and an explanation.

Mr Shuriye, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered man, said he first discovered that he had been identified as the hijacker shortly after getting off the plane and calling friends in Oslo. 'Are you mad?' his friends asked him. 'What have you done. You're the hijacker. It's all over the news, your picture and your name.'

He said he has not decided yet whether to file a lawsuit against US authorities for the case of mistaken identity. Lufthansa had arranged for Mr Shuriye to fly first- class on his planned flight to Ethiopia yesterday.

Mr Shuriye was reported to be flying back to his homeland to try and find his wife and three sons to bring them to Norway when the hijacking occurred.

Nebiu Zewolde, the Ethiopian who hijacked the jet (who on Thursday was variously described by officials as a Bosnian, and as an Arab with a Norwegian passport), had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Germany, and was on the way back to his homeland. He put a starter's pistol to the pilot's head and ordered him to New York.

There were complaints in Germany yesterday about 'obvious security loopholes'. This was not the first time that Frankfurt has come under the security spotlight. The airport was criticised for lack of security when it was believed that the Lockerbie bomb - which blew up a Pan Am jet in 1988, killing all 270 people on board - was in baggage that was loaded in Frankfurt.