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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Police criticised in 'hijack' case
A passenger walks toward a bus under police guard
Muslim passenger: 'They aimed at us with their guns'

There has been strong criticism of Swedish police and prosecutors in the case of the 29-year old Swede who allegedly attempted to board a plane carrying a gun last week.

The man's lawyer, Nils Uggla, said before Monday's hearing that he had not been kept fully informed of the accusations against his client, Karem Sadok Chatty.

Karem Chatty (Expressen Newspaper)
Karem Chatty - remanded in custody

And Muslim passengers on the plane say they felt investigators singled them out because of their religion.

Mr Uggla, who had a one-hour conversation with his client on Sunday, said Mr Chatty had been horrified at the enormous media interest his arrest had created.

"He was confident everything would calm down after a while, and then the truth would emerge. It is a completely different truth than what is now being portrayed in the media," Mr Uggla said.

He said his client told him: "I am no hijacker and terrorist. I am convinced both the police and the prosecutor believe me."

Swedish police have also been criticised for the way they treated Muslim passengers when evacuating the Ryanair flight from Sweden's Vasteras airport to London last week.

Twenty people, all Muslim, were held back for questioning after Mr Chatty's arrest, while the rest of the passengers were allowed to fly to their destination after a six-hour delay.

"Suddenly several police arrived and ordered us off the plane," passenger Abla Mohamed Ali said. "They aimed at us with their guns."


Ms ALi said police appeared to separate those who looked as though they might be Muslims from the others.

"They took all who looked Muslim into one room, and all those who didn't look Muslim in another. They called us witnesses, but we felt more like suspects," she said.

Karem Chatty's lawyer, Nils Uggla
Uggla says his client is horrified by the attention

Bjoern Svensson, a spokesman for Vasteras police, told BBC News Online that police believed the man was travelling with the group.

"We decided to interview everyone in the group who were travelling to the Muslim conference in Birmingham, as the man we arrested was travelling together with that group," he said.

But despite accusations that police and the media have shown an anti-Muslim bias, Muslim groups in Sweden say there has not been a backlash against them over the incident.

"There hasn't been a negative reaction against Muslims, and there hasn't really been strong reactions to the arrest and charges against Chatty from Muslim groups," said Kurdo Baksi, the head of Sweden's Anti-Islamophobia Committee.

But he added anti-Muslim sentiments still prevail in Swedish society.

"We have noted a marked increase in Muslimophobia in Sweden in the run-up to the one-year anniversary of 11 September," he said.

'No political impact'

International media have descended on the little Swedish town of Vasteras in great numbers since last week's arrest, but people in Sweden seem to be more preoccupied with the general elections later this month.

Swedish police by the evacuated Ryanair plane
The incident prompted a massive security operation

Tsemaye Opubor, who lives in Stockholm, told said the whole story had been perceived by many as a small incident at a minor airport.

"Vasteras is a tiny airport, and Ryanair is not an airline people are familiar with, so they don't identify with the passengers.

"I think had this been an SAS [Scandinavian Airways System] aircraft things would have been very different," she said.

Thomas Hempel, a political commentator for Swedish Radio, echoes this view, saying the incident's political effect will be muted.

"While this kind of happening always strengthens the sitting government - as people will automatically turn to them for a sense of stability and security - it is seen as a small incident.

"It will have no or little impact on the election campaign," he said.

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