A British man whose picture of him smiling alongside the passenger who hijacked an EgyptAir short-haul flight went viral Tuesday said he was “not sure why” he asked for a photograph.
Ben Innes, a 26-year-old from the northern English city of Leeds, told The Sun newspaper that he was “trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity” when he approached 59-year-old Seif Eddin Mustafa.
Mustafa had claimed to have explosives in his belt and forced the pilot to fly the Airbus 320 to Cyprus. The plane’s landing at the southern Cypriot city of Lanarca began a bizarre six-hour standoff with authorities, during which Mustafa made a series of demands described as “incoherent” by Cyprus’s president.
Innes was one of seven people, including three passengers, kept on board the plane by Mustafa for hours after he had released most of the passengers. He told the Sun he suspected that the hijacker’s “suicide belt” might be a fake.
“I figured if his bomb was real, Id nothing to lose anyway, so took a chance to get a closer look at it,” he told the paper. “I got one of the cabin crew to translate for me and asked him if I could do a selfie with him. He just shrugged OK, so I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap.”
The belt of explosives turned out to be “telephone cases” made to look like they were explosives. Innes and the remaining hostages were later released before Mustafa was arrested by anti-terror police.
Friends of Innes weren’t surprised by the stunt, with one telling the Daily Telegraph, “Ben is a wild man and this is totally in character for him. He … didn’t have much respect for authority.”
Mustafa is to appear in court Wednesday, where authorities will ask that he be held on a number of unspecified charges, said police spokesman Andreas Angelides.
The haphazard hijacking spawned derision from Cypriot and Egyptian officials as it became clear Mustafa was not connected to any terrorist organization.
Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, when asked by reporters whether he could confirm that the incident was about a woman, replied, “Always, there is a woman”, drawing laughter.
An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official was more blunt, saying Mustafa was “not a terrorist, hes an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they arent stupid. This guy is.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.