NICOSIA, Cyprus -- An Egyptian hijacker who's fighting his extradition accused Egypt's military-backed government of torturing and killing an Italian doctoral student, claiming he saw Giulio Regeni being interrogated in a Cairo prison.
In a surprising twist to lengthy extradition proceedings, Seif Eddin Mustafa told a Cypriot court that he hijacked the domestic EgyptAir flight in March intending to seek asylum in Italy in order to "point the finger" at the Egyptian military regime.
Mustafa said he caught a glimpse from behind a blindfold of a "foreign-looking" person in Lazogli prison during his nearly two-month detention there in December and January after being arrested for using a false Ukrainian passport. He said he recognized Regeni from photos he came across after his release.
Regeni disappeared in Cairo on Jan. 25 and his body - which bore signs of severe torture - was found nine days later on a suburban Cairo road.
"Regeni was in reality held by security forces and was interrogated at the same prison as I was in Lazogli Cairo," Mustafa said in a lengthy statement in Arabic that he read out in court.
"Upon getting released and seeing his pictures, I connected all these facts together and I realized that the person found dead in the street was the same person I saw when I was detained," he said.
Mustafa said he committed the March 29 hijacking to "expose (Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's) fascist regime to the world." The six-hour ordeal ended peacefully on the tarmac of Cyprus' Larnaca airport where the plane was diverted after all 72 passengers and crew were released and Mustafa was arrested.
"I never wanted to take hostages or frighten anyone," Mustafa said. "It was a desperate move for freedom in Egypt that initiated my actions."
Mustafa said he had told the pilots to land in either Cyprus, Greece or Turkey so the aircraft can refuel and ultimately take him to Italy where he would seek asylum.
He also blasted Cypriot authorities for calling him "unstable" as well as for suggesting that he committed the hijacking simply to seek out his Cypriot ex-wife whom he said he "had no reason to or plan to see."
Cyprus police said Mustafa told them after his arrest that he acted because the Egyptian government hadn't allowed him to see his ex-wife and three children on Cyprus in 24 years.
Mustafa said this "purposeful misinformation" indicated that the governments of Cyprus and Egypt where in cahoots to "hide my true motives, to discredit me and to cloud the matter."