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Hijackers of Afghan Airliner Cleared

May 22, 2003

LONDON (AP) _ Nine Afghan men jailed for hijacking a plane from Kabul to London to escape a Taliban death squad won an appeal against their convictions on Thursday.

Ali Safi and his brother Mohammed, who were jailed for five years for leading the hijacking, were the only men still in jail and were expected to be freed within days.

The seven others, who were jailed for between 27 and 30 months, had already served their sentences.

The hijackers took over a Boeing 727 belonging to Afghanistan’s national airline, Ariana, shortly after it left Kabul in February 2000 on an internal flight with more than 180 people aboard.

The plane hopscotched through Central Asia and Russia before landing at Stansted airport north of London, where the hijacking ended four days later with a peaceful surrender.

Three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled Thursday that the convictions were legally questionable because the law relating to whether the men had acted under duress had been wrongly applied at their trial. They were expected to give a fuller explanation of their ruling at a later date.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would appeal the ruling.

Lawyer Imran Khan said the men were ``incredibly happy″ with the outcome.

``What they want everyone to know is that they carried out this hijacking out of necessity. It was either escaping by hijacking or lose their lives by the Taliban, and that position has been vindicated today,″ he said.

The men were convicted in December 2001 of hijacking, false imprisonment and weapons offenses.

Abdul Shohab, Taimur Shah, Kazim Mohammed, Nazamuddin Mohammidy, Abdul Ghayur, and Mohammed Showaib were jailed for 30 months and Reshad Ahmadi received a 27-month sentence.

A 10th man, Waheed Lutfi, was found innocent and the jury was discharged from bringing back verdicts on five charges faced by an 11th man.

The men were members of an anti-Taliban group called the Young Intellectuals of Afghanistan.

During the trial the group’s leader, Ali Safi, a former university lecturer, told the court he had witnessed massacres, public executions and punishment amputations and once had been jailed by the Taliban for playing chess.

The trial Judge Edwin Jowitt said the episode was motivated ``by fear of death at the hand of a tyrannical, unreasoning and merciless regime,″ but added that the hijackers had shown a callous disregard for the passengers and crew.

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