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Egypt Pilot May Have Sought Asylum

February 5, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ An EgyptAir pilot who claims to have information about a fatal crash off the coast of Nantucket last year reportedly has asked for political asylum in Britain.

The official Middle East News Agency carried an EgyptAir statement Friday quoting the airline’s chairman, Mohammed Fahim Rayan, as saying pilot Hamdi Hanafi Taha, 49, had asked for asylum.

Rayan said Taha claimed to have information on the Oct. 31 crash of Flight 990 that killed all 217 people aboard, the report said. The plane went down in the ocean 40 minutes into a flight from New York to Cairo.

But the statement said Taha ``does not have any connection to or knowledge about the cause of the plane crash.″

A team of American and Egyptian investigators has yet to release any official findings on the cause. Some U.S. sources have said the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board is working on the theory the plane was brought down deliberately by a co-pilot who died in the crash.

Both the Egyptian government and public have condemned as outrageous and insulting any speculation that an Egyptian pilot may have committed suicide and killed innocent people. If Taha has information contradicting that, he may fear being ostracized _ or worse _ in a country where human rights activists have been jailed for speech considered harmful to the national interest.

Egyptian officials say they believe an as-yet unexplained problem in the plane’s tail section was responsible for the crash.

Taha made his asylum request at Heathrow Airport after flying a planeload of passengers to London earlier Friday.

A spokesman in London for the Home Office, which handles immigration matters, said an Egyptian national ``has sought entry into the U.K. and his application is being considered by the immigration services.″ He refused to elaborate.

Taha’s wife, Hoda Abdel-Rahman Youssef, told The Associated Press she did not believe reports that her husband was seeking asylum in Britain.

``He is scheduled to arrive tomorrow and we’re waiting for him,″ she said.

Youssef told reporters earlier that her husband had been distressed by the EgyptAir crash.

``He was very sad after the plane crash,″ she said. ``He didn’t tell me anything about the reason behind its plunge″ into the ocean.

Youssef said her husband had suffered anxiety recently, but seemed normal when he left for work Friday morning.

The couple have been married 19 years and have six children.

The pilot who flew the EgyptAir plane from London back to Cairo, Mohammed Salama, said the crew had seen Taha being escorted away by police in London.

EgyptAir’s chief of operations, Hassan Misharfa, who took part in the crash investigation, told the pro-government newspaper Al-Ahram that Taha could not have had information about the crash.

The pro-government newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm carried an editorial today suggesting that Taha was seeking money ``in exchange for causing harm to his country.″

Update hourly