ANKARA, Turkey, (AP) – One of the hijackers of a Turkish plane received training at an al-Qaeda camp and wanted to be flown to Iran so he could eventually join al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported Monday, citing police.
Authorities didn’t say at which al-Qaeda camp 33-year-old hijacker Mommen Abdul Aziz Talikh, an Egyptian of Palestinian origin, received training.
Police said Talikh, along with Mehmet Resat Ozlu of Turkey, wielded a fake bomb and claimed al-Qaeda ties when hijacking the plane early Saturday after it took off from northern Cyprus. The pair held passengers and crew hostage for more than four hours before surrendering peacefully at the Turkish Mediterranean resort Antalya, where the plane had been diverted after taking off.
Dozens of Turks have joined al-Qaeda in Afghanistan or Iraq, police have said. Suicide bombers linked to al-Qaeda hit Istanbul in 2003, killing 58 people in attacks that targeted two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British bank. In February, a court sentenced seven people to life in prison for the bombings.
The two hijackers had met in northern Cyprus a year ago and were living together at the same house for a month, police said. Ozlu was registered at the literature department of a university in the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus, Anatolia said.
Police said that during their interrogation the two suspects confessed that they wanted to divert the plane to Iran and travel to Afghanistan to join the “jihad.”
The men were among 136 passengers on board an Atlasjet flight that departed Saturday from Ercan in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus. Six crew members were on the flight.
The suspects told police during initial questioning that they tried to storm the cockpit shortly after takeoff, Antalya Governor Alaaddin Yuksel said. Passengers said they failed to break the door down.
“They claimed to have bombs,” passenger Erhan Erkul told Turkey’s NTV television.
Police said the men had not been armed with explosives.
It was the fifth hijacking or hijacking attempt of a Turkish plane in four years by people falsely claiming to be carrying explosives or arms — despite increased security at airports following the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.
Police questioned two passengers on suspicion of ties to the hijackers, but released them after concluding that they were not linked, Anatolia said.
The hijackers allowed women and children to get off the plane. While doing that, a group of men escaped by breaking down the rear emergency exit. Six of the passengers were injured when they jumped onto the tarmac from the back of the plane, including a man who broke his pelvic bone.