Turkish Plane Hijacking Probe Said to Take Years

A prosecutor investigating the hijacking of a Turkish airliner to Italy said Tuesday that it will take about two years to complete the inquiry and start the trial of the suspected hijacker.

Prosecutor Giuseppe Giannuzzi said in an interview with The Associated Press that the man, who has been formally placed under arrest by a judge, will likely remain in jail until the trial.

"The prosecution is pushing ahead with the probe," Giannuzzi said. "Presumably it will take two years for the trial to start."

"Besides the long time required to finish the investigation, one should consider the long times that Italian justice takes," he said, referring to the country's notoriously slow judicial process.

The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-400 with 113 people aboard was hijacked last week during a flight from Tirana, Albania, to Istanbul, Turkey. It landed in the southern Italian Adriatic port city of Brindisi after Italian air force fighter jets escorted the aircraft there.

After about two hours, the hijacker, identified by Italian authorities as Hakan Ekinci, 28, of Turkey, surrendered and released all the passengers unharmed.

Turkey says Ekinci is an army deserter.

Ekinci, who says that he has converted to Christianity and fears returning to his Muslim homeland, claims he was seeking to deliver a message to Pope Benedict XVI and ask for his protection.

He is now seeking political asylum in Italy.

Giannuzzi said that while the version of events recounted by Ekinci appears credible, the request for political asylum is premature. Because the plane landed on Italian soil, Italy has jurisdiction to try Ekinci, he said.

The prosecutor has charged Ekinci with hijacking, while examining additional charges such as terrorism and kidnapping. If convicted of hijacking, Ekinci faces a prison term of seven to 21 years.

Ekinci, who was unarmed and appeared to have acted alone, has been kept in custody since his surrender. He has been questioned in jail by investigators.


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