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Briton Ben Innes on EgyptAir hijacker photo: ‘It was the best selfie ever’

GN

26-year-old health and safety auditor from Leeds describes why he posed for picture while held hostage on flight MS181

Cyprus hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa with a man believed to be Ben Innes.
Cyprus hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa with a man believed to be Ben Innes, 26, from Leeds.

A British man who posed smiling for a photo with a hijacker on board an EgyptAir flight has said he did it to take “a closer look” at the apparent explosives belt, adding: “I figured if his bomb was real I’d nothing to lose anyway.”

Ben Innes, 26, was one of three passengers and four crew held to the end of a hostage siege, after Seif Eldin Mustafa hijacked the EgyptAir flight bound for Cairo from Alexandria and forced it to be redirected to Cyprus.

The plane landed at Larnaca airport, where Innes was snapped standing next to Mustafa – who was still wearing what he claimed to be an explosives belt – in the cabin of the Airbus 320.

The bomb was later found to be fake.

Innes is a health and safety auditor from Leeds, living in Aberdeen. He was returning home on a business trip when flight MS181 was seized.

He spoke to the Sun about his motivations.

“I’m not sure why I did it, I just threw caution to the wind while trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity. I figured if his bomb was real I’d nothing to lose anyway, so took a chance to get a closer look at it.

The last three passengers on the hijacked EgyptAir flight MS181, including Briton Ben Innes, centre, run across the tarmac after leaving the plane on Tuesday.
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The last three passengers on the hijacked EgyptAir flight MS181, including Briton Ben Innes, centre, run across the tarmac after leaving the plane on Tuesday. Photograph: George Michael/AFP/Getty Images

“I got one of the cabin crew to translate for me and asked him if I could do a selfie with him. He just shrugged OK, so I stood by him and smiled for the camera while a stewardess did the snap. It has to be the best selfie ever.”

Innes was among the last passengers to be released by Mustafa, after the hijacker freed most of those on board. “After about half an hour at Larnaca I asked for a photo with him as we were sitting around waiting. I thought, why not? If he blows us all up it won’t matter anyway.”

A man believed to be the hijacker of EgyptAir flight MS181 leaves the plane before surrendering to security forces after a six-hour standoff at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on Tuesday.
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A man believed to be the hijacker of EgyptAir flight MS181 leaves the plane before surrendering to security forces after a six-hour standoff at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on Tuesday. Photograph: George Michael/AFP/Getty Images

On closer inspection, Innes suspected that Mustafa’s explosives device was likely to be fake. “So I decided to go back to my seat and plot my next move.”

He and the remaining hostages were later released.

Innes’ stunt was decried by security experts, praised by relatives, and said to be “totally in character” by friends.

“Only Ben could get a selfie! #proud,” reportedly tweeted Sarah Innes, a relative. Her account was later deleted.

Passengers including Ben Innes are escorted away from the plane by police.
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Passengers including Ben Innes are escorted away from the plane by police. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

The image has been widely described as a “selfie”, but Innes’ mother Pauline Innes argued that it was clear her son did not take the image himself.

“All we can say is that the picture is clearly not a selfie as everyone has been describing it,” she said. “You can clearly see that it is not Ben who is taking the picture. He’s in it but he’s not taking it.”

Innes sent the photo to friends in the UK from the plane. In one screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation, published by the Daily Mail, Innes wrote: “You know your boy doesn’t fuck about!! Turn on the news lad!!!”

A man leaves the hijacked EgyptAir plane from the cockpit window at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on Tuesday.
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A man leaves the hijacked EgyptAir plane from the cockpit window at Larnaca airport in Cyprus on Tuesday. Photograph: Petros Karadjias/AP

Innes’ flatmate Chris Tundogan told the Mail that Innes was “not afraid to shy away from anything … I find it pretty mental but that’s just Ben I guess!”

A friend of Innes from university told the Telegraph that he was a “wild man” and “very into his banter”, and that the stunt was “totally in character for him”.

Egyptian national Mustafa hijacked the plane, which had 62 people on board, shortly after it took off on what should have been a 28-minute flight from Alexandria to Cairo.

A handout picture provided by the Egyptian ministry of interior of a screen grab of CCTV footage reportedly showing the hijacker of the EgyptAir flight going through security at Alexandria airport.
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A handout picture provided by the Egyptian ministry of interior of a screen grab of CCTV footage reportedly showing the hijacker of the EgyptAir flight going through security at Alexandria airport. Photograph: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Claiming to be wearing a suicide belt, he forced the plane to re-route to Cyprus, where he proceeded to take several passengers and crew hostage and issued a forlorn demand to see his former wife, a Cypriot.

He finally surrendered himself to counter-terrorism police, reportedly emerging from the aircraft with his hands in the air.

As one Egyptian foreign ministry official said of Mustafa: “He’s not a terrorist, he’s an idiot. Terrorists are crazy but they aren’t stupid. This guy is.”