Suriviving Hijacker of EgyptAir Jet Appears at Hearing
VALLETTA, Malta (AP) _ The surviving suspect in the hijacking of an EgyptAir jetliner that left 60 people dead heard police and forensic experts give evidence Monday that may lead to his trial on charges of murdering an American and an Israeli woman.
The hijacking began shortly after the Boeing 737 took off from Athens airport on a flight to Cairo Nov. 23 and ended in flames and smoke the next day when Egyptian commandos stormed the craft after a 22-hour standoff at Valletta airport. Two hijackers were among the 60 people killed in the takeover of the jet and the storming.
Omar Mohammed Ali Rezaq, 22, has been charged with murder in the deaths of two passengers, American Scarlett Rogenkamp and Israeli Nitzen Mendelsen. The two women were among five passengers shot and thrown off the plane by the sky pirates during the standoff at Luqa airport. The other shooting victims survived.
Journalists were admitted to the hearing but were told that the magistrates, accepting a request by the defense, ordered them them not to publish any of the testimony.
A defense lawyer, Joseph Mifsud, asked that testimony in the hearing not be published because he said it could influence potential jurors.
Rezaq pleaded innocent to the charges of murder and 14 other charges at an earlier court appearance on Dec. 12. The charges include illegal possession of weapons and explosives, causing an explosion and holding hostages.
The Lebanese-born Rezaq wore a blue suit and a blue shirt at Monday’s pre- trial hearing. Clean shaven and neatly groomed, he looked pale but calm as he appeared before the magistrates in a makeshift courtroom in St. Elmo Fort, once a British army base.
U.S. Ambassador Gary Matthews and Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Ali Amr attended the hearing.
Plainclothes policemen and soldiers with automatic weapons lined the route from the fort’s main gate to the courtroom.
Among those testifying were police officers, forensic experts and the doctor who treated Rezaq at a Malta hospital for wounds received in the hijacking and storming.
No trial date has been set, and the hearing was scheduled to continue on Tuesday.
The Maltese government has said that most of the 60 deaths were caused by smoke inhalation and burns from an explosion and fire that engulfed the interior of the plane following the commando assault.
Maltese authorities have said that the hijackers, realizing the plane was being stormed, threw hand grenades.
Egypt had asked for extradition of Rezaq, but Malta turned down the request, saying the crimes were committed in Malta.