NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The Cypriot ex-wife of an Egyptian man who hijacked a domestic EgyptAir flight and forced it land in Cyprus, threatening to blow it up with a fake suicide belt, said her former husband is an “extremely dangerous man” who used drugs, terrorized his family and beat her and their children.
Marina Paraschou strongly rejected some media reports that suggested 59-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa hijacked the Airbus A320 with 72 passengers and crew onboard as a desperate man who acted out of love and had wanted to see her and his children.
Cypriot police confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that Mustafa’s name was on a stop list and had been since his deportation from the Mediterranean island nation in 1990.
In an interview published Thursday in leading Cypriot daily Phileleftheros, Paraschou said it’s a “lie” that Mustafa asked to speak to her and that police who brought her to Cyprus’ main Larnaca airport where the plane was diverted only asked her to identify his voice.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, Mustafa’s 57-year old sister gave a different account, saying his brother’s life was focused on how to get to see his children and that his only offenses were related to forging documents so he could travel to see them.
“For 24 years, my brother wasted his life in prison and attempts to travel and see his children,” Fekriya Mustafa told the AP.
She said he phoned her from the plane twice and told her that he had hijacked the aircraft — but she believed he was joking until she saw his picture on TV news.
She last saw him a week ago but had no clue what he would do. “I had no idea this will happen,” she said. “He was depressed because of the children. He has no work, no life, nothing.”
The sister said he had no violent past but that he had beaten his children to “discipline them.” She made no mention of him beating up his wife.
Egyptian authorities had repeatedly arrested Mustafa for forging personal documents. He escaped from prison in a massive jailbreak during the 2011 uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak. He later returned to prison to serve the rest of his term and he was last released in 2015.
The urge to go to Cyprus was just too great, the sister said.
“I do apologize to our president, our embassy in Cyprus and to my country for whatever harm my brother unintentionally caused,” she said.
Cypriot officials, who described Mustafa as “psychologically unstable,” said he had asked police negotiators during Tuesday’s hijacking to deliver a letter to Paraschou in which he demanded the release of 63 dissident women imprisoned in Egypt. The six-hour ordeal ended peacefully when police arrested Mustafa after all passengers and crew were released.
During a court hearing Wednesday, a police prosecutor said Mustafa told authorities after his arrest, “What’s someone supposed to do when he hasn’t seen his wife and children in 24 years and the Egyptian government won’t let him?”
But Paraschou suggested in the interview that it was all a ruse.
“This man never cared for his children for one minute, either when he lived here or when he went away,” Paraschou is quoted as saying. “He only offered pain, misery and terror. And even now when he’s in police custody, my children and I are afraid.”
Cypriot police said Mustafa had not asked to be represented by a lawyer.
In a separate interview with daily Politis also published Thursday, Paraschou said Mustafa used her as an “excuse” to seek asylum in Cyprus.
Paraschou told Phileleftheros she married Mustafa in 1985 when she was 20. The couple divorced five years later and since then had only once made contact when she called him several years later to say that their teenage daughter — one of four children the couple had together — had been killed in a car accident.
“What do I care? It doesn’t matter she was killed,” Paraschou said Mustafa had told her.
She said while married, the couple lived in her parents’ home and that Mustafa never held down a job, beating his children when he couldn’t support his drug habit.
Paraschou said Mustafa was a “fanatical” Palestine Liberation Organization supporter who bragged about participating in the killing of three Israeli soldiers and was jailed for four years in Syria.
She said Mustafa’s tattoos and some “items” she didn’t identify betrayed Mustafa’s “connections with dark things.”
Egypt’s interior ministry said Mustafa had a long criminal record but had finished serving a one-year prison term in March 2015.
Cyprus police told the AP that Mustafa’s criminal record on the island stretched back to 1988, when he was convicted on six counts of forging passports and handed a suspended sentence. He was later deported to Egypt following domestic violence charges by Paraschou.
He re-entered Cyprus on an assumed Qatari identity, but was tracked down and again deported to Egypt in 1990.
Associated Press Writer Maggie Michael and Sam Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.