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Pilot Who Sought Asylum Suspended

February 6, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ EgyptAir said Sunday it has suspended a pilot who is seeking asylum in Britain and reportedly claiming to possess information about the airline’s fatal crash last year.

Hamdi Hanafi Taha was suspended as of Friday _ the day he flew a plane to London’s Heathrow Airport and asked for asylum _ for failing to follow procedures, said the airline’s head of operations, Capt. Hassan Misharfa. Taha faces dismissal under Egyptian labor law if he does not report to the state-run airline within eight days of his suspension.

In London, a spokesman for the Home Office, which handles immigration matters, said Taha’s asylum application was being considered. An Egyptian Embassy spokesman said Taha was being held at an immigration dormitory near Heathrow.

EgyptAir has said Taha claims to have information about the Oct. 31 crash of Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts that killed all 217 people on board. An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing, but airline officials have dismissed the idea that Taha knew something about it.

It is not clear why Taha chose to flee to London rather than simply come forward with any information he has.

While crash investigators have not issued a finding, some American sources say U.S. officials are working on the theory the plane was brought down deliberately by co-pilot Gamil el-Batouty. Egyptian officials have vehemently dismissed the idea, saying they believe an unexplained problem in the plane’s tail was responsible.

If Taha has information supporting the American theory, he may fear being ostracized in Egypt.

Taha’s first wife said Sunday that her husband knew el-Batouty, but they were not close.

Meanwhile, more details began to emerge about Taha’s personal life.

Youssef Saqr, who described himself as Taha’s friend and lawyer, said the pilot’s second marriage to an American woman had strained his relations with his first wife, an Egyptian by whom he has six children. Taha was married to both women at the same time, which is legal in Egypt and accepted in Islam.

Saqr said Taha’s Egyptian wife of 19 years, Hoda Abdel-Rahman Youssef, had insisted he divorce the American woman, who had moved to Cairo.

In an interview Sunday, Youssef refused to answer questions about her husband’s second marriage. The American’s whereabouts were not clear.

Youssef said her husband had shown signs of anxiety recently and he had, uncharacteristically, hit one of his sons. But she said she had believed he was back to normal when he left for work Friday morning.

She said her husband did not tell her of his asylum plans and had never told her he knew anything about the plane crash.

Muntasser el-Zayyat, a lawyer and a fundamentalist Muslim, said he knew Taha as one of several pilots who had sued EgyptAir in 1987, demanding it stop providing alcohol on its flights. They won their case after several months of litigation.

``He was a good Muslim, an observant one,″ el-Zayyat said.

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