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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 19:08 GMT
Afghan hijackers jailed
Police prepare to search hijacked plane
The hijack ended after a three-day stand-off
Nine men who hijacked a plane from Afghanistan and sparked a three-day standoff at Stansted Airport have been jailed.

Brothers Ali and Mohammed Safi - who led the hijack - were jailed for five years, with six of the other men receiving sentences of 30 months.

The youngest hijacker, 19-year-old Reshad Ahmadi, was sentenced to 27 months imprisonment. All have lodged appeals against their convictions.

I accept you were fleeing Afghanistan in fear for your own lives

Judge Sir Edwin Jowitt
Judge Sir Edwin Jowitt earlier heard that Prime Minister Tony Blair had received a written plea for leniency from the "Safi Tribe" in Afghanistan.

The judge conceded the initial hijacking "was brought about by fear of death at the hand of a tyrannical, unreasoning and merciless regime".

He said: "This was a case which was different to other hijacking cases.

"I accept you were fleeing Afghanistan in fear for your own lives."

He added: "But for that the sentences for all of you would be much longer."

The men were convicted in December before being remanded in custody for reports.

Further charges

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

The regime that now exists is one in which these men might have led a constructive and fruitful role

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

Richard Ferguson QC said on Friday that the anti-Taleban group led by university lecturer Ali Safi, the Young Intellectuals of Afghanistan, had also written calling for leniency.

"The regime that now exists is one in which these men might have led a constructive and fruitful role," Mr Ferguson told the court.

Stand-off prolonged

The judge admitted that the hijacking might not have been criminal from the very start.

But he said it had changed in nature at Moscow Airport when the hijackers refused to release hostages who did not share their objective of reaching Britain.

Hostages leaving Stansted on an airport bus
Several children were among the hostages
He said the brothers had prolonged the 70-hour siege at Stansted Airport in Essex in order to make a political point.

The judge, who removed all reporting restrictions on the case, said the jail terms would have been "in double figures" for the Safi brothers if it had been a criminal hijacking from the start.

"I accept that there was no intention to harm the hostages, the guns were unloaded before arrival at Stansted and the threats were play acting."

Imran Khan, solicitor for the Safi brothers, said while the sentences were a "very pleasant surprise", the men would be appealing against their convictions in an effort to clear their names.

He told BBC News 24: "In our view, the judge was wrong in the direction he gave to the jury about the question of duress."

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

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.

The BBC's George Eykyn
"This was Britain's longest hijack case"
The BBC's David Lawrence
"They were members of a secret Afghan political group"
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