LONDON — A British man who caused online debate Wednesday after having his picture taken with the hijacker of an Egyptian plane said that he did it to take a “closer look” at his supposed suicide belt.
Ben Innes, 26, posed for a photo grinning next to the hijacker during the five-hour stand-off on Tuesday aboard the EgyptAir A320 jet and sent the picture to his friends.
Innes, from Leeds in northern England, told the Sun newspaper: “I’m not sure why I did it — I just threw caution to the wind while trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity.
“I figured if his bomb was real I’d have nothing to lose anyway, so took a chance to get closer and look at it,” added the health and safety auditor based in Aberdeen, Scotland.
“So I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap. It has to be the best selfie ever,” he said.
His mother later told the Daily Telegraph that the picture was “not a selfie.” “You can clearly see that it is not Ben who is taking the picture,” she said.
The plane was forced to land in Larnaca, Cyprus, amid fears of a terrorist incident.
Cypriot authorities later named the hijacker as 58-year-old Egyptian Seif Al-Din Mohamed Mostafa and accused him of diverting the Alexandria-to-Cairo flight.
He made several demands, including seeing his Cypriot ex-wife, with whom he has children. His suicide belt turned out to be fake.
The snap sparked an online debate between those who admired Innes’ humour and others who thought that the incident was not a laughing matter.
“I dont know if Ben Innes has Twitter but Sir, I salute your indefatigableness,” tweeted user Henry Brubaker.
However, Jonathan T Gilliam wrote: “Ben Innes would be a hero if he had taken pic & sent to cops during hijacking. But he’s an idiot bragging to friends.”
A university friend told the Daily Telegraph that the incident was “not a surprise at all.”
“Ben is a wild man and this is totally in character for him. He was a big rugby guy and very into his banter and didn’t have much respect for authority,” the friend said.
Innes was among the last of the 55 passengers to be released by Mostafa, who was remanded into custody Wednesday.
Egypt demands Cyprus extradite hijacker
Egypt has asked Cyprus to extradite a man accused of hijacking the EgyptAir flight and diverting it to Larnaca where he was arrested, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The state prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Egyptian Seif Al-Din Mohamed Mostafa, 58, should be remanded into its custody for questioning under a 1996 bilateral extradition treaty.
A Larnaca judge on Wednesday ordered that Mostafa be held in custody for eight days, in his first court appearance after Tuesday’s hijacking.
Police told the court that Mostafa — described by officials as “psychologically unstable” — faces possible charges of hijacking, kidnapping, reckless and threatening behavior, and breaches of the anti-terror law.
Mostafa did not speak in court, but he flashed journalists the victory sign as he was driven away by police from the courthouse, which is less than a kilometer (half a mile) from Larnaca airport where a six-hour standoff unfolded after the hijacking.
He will not face any formal charges until a later hearing and only at that point will he be expected to enter a plea.