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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 00:33 GMT
Afghan hijackers to be sentenced
Police prepare to search hijacked plane
The hijack ended after a three-day stand-off
Nine Afghan men convicted of hijacking a plane and forcing it to land at Stansted Airport in Essex are due to appear in court for sentencing.

The men, who were convicted at the Old Bailey in December 2001, claimed they were fleeing the brutal Taleban regime.

Ali Safi, 38, Abdul Shohab, 21, Taimur Shah, 29, Kazim Mohammed, 28, Reshad Ahmadi, 19, Nazamuddin Mohammidy, 28, Abdul Ghayur, 25, Mohammed Showaib, 26, Mohammed Safi, 33, had pleaded not guilty, saying they feared a Taleban death squad.

'Desperate gamble'

They were found guilty of four further charges of false imprisonment of passengers and crew, and possessing grenades and firearms.

The Afghan Ariana Boeing 727 was hijacked by armed men during an internal flight in Afghanistan in February 2000.

The plane landed in Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Moscow before eventually heading for Britain.

Freed hostage
74 of the 165 on board the plane asked to stay in UK

The pilot was forced at gunpoint to Stansted where the hijackers threatened to kill passengers and blow up the plane.

They gave themselves up after a three-day stand-off.

At their trial Richard Fergusson QC, for one of the defendants, said the hijack had been a "desperate gamble" by desperate men.

"The choice was stark and simple - either you get out or you die," he told the court.

'Evil shadow'

"The evil shadow of the Taleban hangs over this case. They were the most evil administration since the Nazis."

But Bruce Houlder QC, prosecuting, had told the jury the hijackers had been making a political point and had threatened to kill passengers and attacked the crew.

"They went rather further in their demands than the simple saving of their lives."

When the hijack ended 74 of the 165 people on the plane, including some of those originally accused, asked to remain in the UK.

At the end of the siege, the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said the accused would not be allowed to remain in the UK but would eventually be deported to a third country.

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