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Turkish Airlines hijack attempt foiled by passengers

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires & Bergens Tidende | 1/5/2011 12:00:00 AM |

A Turkish passenger on a Turkish Airlines flight from Oslo to Istanbul tried to hijack the plane before being overpowered by other passengers Wednesday, security sources said quoted by Turkish media. (UPDATED)

 The alleged attempted hijacking late Wednesday of an Oslo-Istanbul flight was described as “no surprise” by a friend of the suspect, a Turk who had been living in Norway and was arraigned in Istanbul on Thursday.

 Yaşar Cuma, the would-be hijacker, headed for the cockpit of the Boeing 737-800 less than an hour before the Turkish Airlines, or THY, flight’s arrival in Istanbul and demanded that the aircraft return to Oslo, claiming to have a bomb. The 40-year-old was tackled by another passenger and the plane landed safely at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport.

 Cuma had gone on a hunger strike for 43 days last summer in an attempt to get a Norwegian residence permit, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review learned Thursday from a Norwegian newspaper in the town where the suspect had been living as an asylum seeker. The paper also spoke to a friend of Cuma’s who said he was “not surprised” to hear about the attempted hijacking.

 The suspect, who was reported to be from a village in southeastern Turkey, was immediately detained on board the plane, which was carrying 59 passengers. No explosive device was found.

 “The wise behavior of [the] captain [and] his first pilot, as well as calm behavior from [the] five crew cabin staff, is an example for any airline in how to handle tricky situations like the unfortunate one we had last night. [THY] should be proud of the way they tried to solve an almost unsolvable mess,” passenger Dag Gjerstad, who claimed to have helped interfere with the attempted bombing, wrote in a statement he sent to the Daily News.

 Cuma was questioned at the police station at Atatürk airport and then taken to the Dr. Sadi Konuk Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul’s Bakırköy district for a medical check. He was then was brought back to the police and transferred to the Bakırköy Courthouse around 10 a.m. Thursday.

[HH] Asylum seeker in Norway

 “I was not surprised [to hear about the hijack attempt]. When I spoke to him [Cuma] yesterday, he told me he was going to Oslo and that he had something to sort out there. He also said he might not return to Voss in a while,” a friend of Cuma told the Norwegian newspaper Avisa Hordaland, published in the town of Voss, where the would-be hijacker had been living.

 “He has been struggling to get a residence permit, but every time has been turned down,” Cuma’s friend told the newspaper.

 The Norwegian Embassy in Ankara has not become involved in the case thus far.

 “As far as we know, this person is not a Norwegian citizen, and does not have a permanent residence permit in Norway. We have not been contacted by Turkish authorities, and I cannot see any reason why we should be,” Cecilie Landsverk, the Norwegian ambassador to Ankara, said Thursday to the Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende. “This concerns a Turkish citizen in Turkey, and is therefore a case for Turkish authorities.”

 The Bakırköy Public Prosecutor transferred Cuma to Bakırköy Mental Hospital based on the disability card he was carrying on his person. The prosecution will handle Cuma according to the report to be prepared by the hospital.

[HH] Passengers’ accounts of the incident

 “We were 50 minutes away from touchdown when I heard a lot of noise at the back of the plane,” passenger Salim Tahar told Norway’s TV2 Nyhetskanalen. “I turned round and there was a person who had his face covered, was wearing a cap and had dark clothes. Basically, he looked like a terrorist.”

 The person started to shout and he had an object clamped to his body, Tahar said, adding that he could not be sure if it was a bomb or a weapon. A female passenger told Tahar that the would-be hijacker was demanding the aircraft return to Oslo. Tahar said the crew moved the passengers to the front of the plane, which reached Istanbul ahead of schedule. At the airport, as the passengers rushed off the plane, between 20 and 30 policemen moved in and arrested Cuma. “Some passengers made the sign of the cross, others prayed. The people were very nervous,” Tahar was quoted as saying.

 Bülent Yıldırım, a passenger interviewed by the Anatolia news agency, said as the plane was landing, somebody shouted, demanding that everybody lie down on the floor or he would set off the bomb in his hand.

 “The man entered the toilet and stayed there approximately 20 minutes. He talked to the hostesses when he got out,” said Nurettin Tuzkaya, another passenger. “The person wanted to take the plane back to Oslo. He gathered the passengers behind him. A foreign passenger jumped him. That passenger made the person ineffective. Let Allah not let anybody [else] experience such a thing even if [the bomb] was a lie.”

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