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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 May 2006, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Afghan hijackers 'not spongers'
Ariana Airlines plane at Stansted
The men said they were in imminent danger from the Taleban
The group of Afghan hijackers granted permission by the High Court to stay in the UK say they are educated people who do not want to "sponge" off the state.

In a statement, the nine asylum seekers said they were desperate to be allowed to work and contribute to UK society.

They also apologised to passengers on the flight they hijacked to Stansted in 2000, for the fear they had caused.

Tony Blair has said the decision not to return the men to Afghanistan is "an abuse of common sense".

Six years ago the men hijacked an Ariana Boeing 727 that was on an internal flight in Afghanistan, saying they were escaping the Taleban.

They forced the plane to fly to Stansted airport, in Essex, which led to a four day stand-off and eventually asylum applications by 78 people on board.

Convictions quashed

"We do realise that for the other people on that plane the hijack was terrifying and we regret causing such fear in the hearts of others," the nine men said in the statement issued through a west London law centre.

We want people to realise that we understand the shock and even outrage against us and what we did
Afghan hijackers
"But we did it because we were desperate and we did not believe we could all get away safely in any other way."

Their solicitor, Sheona York, said the men were part of a democratic opposition in Afghanistan.

"They'd been organising education for women, and people were being tortured and killed for carrying out such work. They fled because their lives were in danger."

Brothers Ali and Mohammed Safi were jailed along with Abdul Shohab, Taimur Shah, Nazamuddin Mohammidy, Abdul Ghayur, Mohammed Kazin, Mohammed Showaib and Reshad Ahmadi in 2001.

Ali Safi was described as a university lecturer during the original trial.

Click here for photos of the nine men

Appeal judges quashed their convictions in May 2003 but insisted that their decision was "not a charter for future hijackers".

They said a mistake in directing the jury was the only reason the men's appeal had succeeded.

On Wednesday, the High Court ruled the men could remain in the UK until it was safe to return to Afghanistan. The government has said it will appeal.

'Brutal tyranny'

In their statement, the men said they had been in imminent danger from the Taleban and taking the plane had been the quickest and only way to ensure they escaped torture and possible execution.

"We want people to realise that we understand the shock and even outrage against us and what we did, and we are of course extremely sorry for the distress and fear that we caused to others by taking the plane.

"But we wish people to consider our side of the story - the medieval and brutal tyranny we were escaping from, the fact that we went to prison and served our full sentence for the hijacking."

They pointed to an asylum adjudicator appeal panel's decision - made in 2004 - that they would be at risk of torture and death if they went back to Afghanistan.

This week High Court judge Mr Justice Sullivan criticised the government for "deliberately delaying" implementing that panel's decision.

'Enormous risks'

The men said: "We believe that it is this delay and the fact that we have been kept idle and living on state support all these years when we could be working, supporting our families and contributing to society which is an affront to common sense.

"We are desperate to work as, before we came to this country, all of us had worked to support ourselves and our families, from a very young age."

The men said they had taken enormous personal risks to organise secret schools for girls in Afghanistan, and considered themselves to be allies of Britain in the struggle against terrorism.

They had skills to offer and "sponging" and "living off the state" was the last thing they wanted to do, they said.

On Friday an order banning the naming of the nine was lifted by a judge following applications from two newspaper publishers.

The nine men
1. Reshad Ahmadi
2. Abdul Ghayur
3. Nazamuddin Mohammidy
4. Ali Safi
5. Mohammed Safi
6. Taimur Shah
7. Abdul Shohab
8. Mohammed Showaib
9. Mohammed Kazin

Click here to return

Scenes from the hijack at Stansted

Tory pledge on Human Rights Act
12 May 06 |  UK Politics
Government appeal over hijackers
11 May 06 |  UK Politics
Hijack convictions 'a mistake'
06 Jun 03 |  UK Politics

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