Intercepted Pilot Says U.S. Warplanes Threatened to Shoot With PM-Klinghoffer-Hijack, Bjt
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ The pilot of an Egyptian passenger plane diverted to Italy with four hijackers aboard said today U.S. Navy pilots threatened to shoot down his aircraft if he did not comply with their orders.
Capt. Ahmed Moneeb spoke to reporters after President Hosni Mubarak awarded him and four other crew members decorations for valor in a ceremony at a presidential palace in the Cairo district Heliopolis.
″It was piracy,″ Moneeb said of last Thursday’s action by four U.S. Navy F-14s and three other support aircraft over the Mediterrrnean.
He said his Boeing 737 was ″an airliner with civilian passengers flying in an airway with the necessary permission and this (interception) was a violation of aviation law.″
Moneeb received the Order of Merit, Second Class, and his copilot Hisham el-Nahas was awarded the Order of The Republic, Fourth Class. One steward and two stewardesses got lesser decorations.
In addition to the four hijackers, there were two officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization identified as Mohammed Abbas, member of the Executive Committee, and an aide known by the codename Abul-Ezz.
Egyptian officials said the rest were Egyptian security agents.
Asked whether the interceptors threatened to shoot down his plane if he refused the diversion order, Moneeb replied: ″Yes.″
″They also jammed my contact with Cairo,″ he added.
Asked how he felt when intercepted, he said: ″It was a feeling of responsibility for my 30 passengers. That was the first thing I had to think about.″
Mohamed Fahim Rayan, board chairman of the national carrier Egyptair which owns the plane, told reporters his company planned to raise the interception ″before all international organizations responsible for the safety of air transport and will seek their condemnation.″ He said the U.S. action was ″a violation of international laws governing aviation safety and our company has been harmed by it ... If the international air transport industry finds this action acceptable, this would mean that the industry will collapse.″
Rayan said Mubarak ″congratulated the crew members on this courageous and dutiful stand.″
The plane returned to Cairo from Italy on Sunday.