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Torquemada
10-04-2006, 02:37 PM
Hijacker Reportedly Faced Arrest in Turkey for Desertion

A Turkish hijacker seeking to communicate with Pope Benedict seized an airliner flying from Albania to Istanbul on Tuesday and diverted it to Italy before surrendering.

The drama ended swiftly after the unarmed Turkish hijacker gave himself up to Italian police and asked for asylum within hours of seizing the plane and forcing it to land in southern Italy on Tuesday.

The Boeing 737-400 had 107 passengers and six crew members on board.

All but the hijacker and a traveler who opted to stay in Italy were flown to Istanbul. The passangers, most of them Albanians, were greeted by senior THY managers at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.

The 28-year-old Turkish man identified as Hakan Ekinci, was originally facing arrest upon his arrival in Turkey. Ekinci was reportedly a Turkish convert to Christianity and a conscientious objector to military service.

Ekinci deserted in May while on a one-day furlough from his Istanbul garrison and fled to Albania, where he made an unsuccessful bid for political asylum, according to Istanbul Governor, Muammer Guler.

A letter to Pope Benedict

He had earlier written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, hoping for his help to avoid military service in Turkey.

"Dear pope, I am a Christian and I do not want to serve in a Muslim army," Ekinci said in his letter to the pontiff, published on a Turkish Internet blog.

He said he converted to Christianity in 1999, adding: "I do not want to live in a Muslim country any longer.... Only your sublime leadership will save me." He also wrote that he was living in a UN-run refugee camp in Albania, "a country that has good relations with Turkey and is considering to sent me back there."

Package supposedly contained bomb

On Tuesday, he hijacked the plane about 20 minutes after take-off from Tirana, Albania en route to Istanbul. He entered the cockpit and threatened the pilots with a parcel which he said contained a bomb, according to Turkish officials. He forced the pilots to land in Italy.

The Turkish ambassador to Italy, Ugur Ziyal, was quoted by the state-owned Anatolia news agency as saying that the hijacking was a unique incident and that it was important not to link the event with the upcoming papal visit to Turkey. Ziyal pointed out that Ekinci was not a Muslim, but a Christian who had sought the pope's help.

Pope Benedict XVI had angered Muslims around the world with recent remarks he had made about Islam.

Italian newspapers reported Wednesday that Benedict's trip to Turkey would go ahead as planned. However, there was concern in the
Vatican about security threats in Turkey, the reports said.

No links to terrorist group

There had been speculation earlier that another man had helped Ekinci.

Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler, speaking after the standoff ended at Italy's Brindisi airport, said Hakan Ekinci seemed to have acted alone, apparently bluffing the pilot by saying he had other accomplices aboard.

Guler said there was no indication of Ekinci having links with any terrorist organisation.

A lawyer for Turkish conscientious objectors said she was not aware of any legal case against Ekinci in Turkey for objecting the to compulsory draft. He recently mailed a civic group of anti-war activists and conscientious objectors but they did not take interest in his case because he was "inconsistent," the lawyer, Hulya Ucpinar, told
Anatolia.

The agency also reported that Ekinci had a criminal record for using a fake ID card on two occasions in 2003 and has spent time in
jail for bank fraud.

DW staff / AFP (als)
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Muezzin
10-04-2006, 06:44 PM
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