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UK jails Afghan hijackers

The hijacked Ariana aircraft on the tarmac at Stansted Airport in February 2000
The hijacked Ariana aircraft on the tarmac at Stansted Airport in February 2000  

LONDON, England -- Nine Afghan nationals who hijacked an aircraft and forced it to fly to Britain where they threatened to kill the passengers and crew have been jailed for a total of 27 years.

Two brothers who organised the hijack were jailed for five years each while six of their followers were jailed for 30 months in a court hearing at the Old Bailey, in London, on Friday.

A seventh was jailed for 27 months because he was aged only 18 at the time.

All were members of the Young Intellectuals of Afghanistan and had carried out the hijacking in February 2000 initially to flee the Taliban regime.

But it had turned into a criminal act after the Ariana 727 plane was forced to fly on to Britain after landing in Moscow.

The 70-hour siege at London's Stansted Airport, in Essex, was Britain's longest airport standoff. It ended peacefully when the men surrendered.

All nine men pleaded not guilty to hijacking, false imprisonment of passengers and crew and possessing firearms and grenades.

Judge Sir Edwin Jowitt said brothers Ali and Mohammed Safi, 38 and 33 had prolonged the siege in order to make a political point.

The judge said the jail terms would have been "in double figures" if it had been a criminal hijacking from the start.

After landing at Stansted Airport, near London, they threatened to kill passengers and blow up the plane during a three-day armed stand-off in which 200 flights were disrupted.

The men, who were armed with four guns, a knife and two hand grenades, surrendered to police after demanding to talk to a United Nations representative.

'Risked our lives'

During the siege, the captain and air crew escaped through an open window in the cockpit.

A steward was beaten up and thrown down the aircraft's steps as the hijackers became angry that they would not be able to fly out of the airport.

Following the sentencing, the hijackers issued a statement protesting their innocence.

Solicitor Imran Khan said the nine would "fight to clear their names" and felt they had been set "an impossibly high test" by the judge.

A statement from the defendants said: "We are very pleased that the judge has recognised the exceptional nature of this case.

"He appears to have accepted that we risked our lives to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan at a time when few cared about what was going on.

"In doing this, we came to the attention of the Taliban and we were left with two choices -- flee or face certain death. We chose to flee.

"We sought refuge in this country and hoped we would be treated with compassion. While this is reflected in the sentencing of the judge today, we have still been criminalised."

The judge said: "I accept that there was no intention to harm the hostages, the guns were unloaded before arrival at Stansted and the threats were play acting."

He added that the initial hijacking "was brought about by fear of death at the hand of a tyrannical, unreasoning and merciless regime."

But the passengers were not allowed to leave the plane after being flown from Afghanistan to Moscow and were used as "bargaining chips" at Stansted where the men demanded to see a United Nations representative.

The judge added: "It displayed a callous disregard for their interests, their sensitivities and their fears."

In the dock were: Ali Safi, 38, Abdul Shohab, 21, Taimur Shah, 29, Kazim Mohammed, 28, Reshad Ahmadi, 20, Nazamuddin Mohammidy, 28, Abdul Ghayur, 25, Mohammed Showaib, 26, and Mohammed Safi, 33.


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