The co-pilot who hijacked an Ethiopian Airlines commercial passenger plane and demanded asylum in Geneva will not be extradited by his home country and will instead be tried in Switzerland on criminal charges.
The Swiss government refused to extradite him to Ethiopia, as confirmed by the Federal Office of Justice. Switzerland informed the Ethiopian government that the case against the hijacker had already been opened in Switzerland based on the same facts that were used to demand his extradition.
On the morning of February 17, Ethiopian Airlines flight 702 from Addis Ababa to Rome, carrying 200 passengers and crew, should have landed in Rome but instead continued on to Geneva after the co-pilot locked the pilot out of the cockpit and hijacked the plane, demanding asylum in Switzerland.
After landing in Geneva, he gave himself up and was arrested. He now faces up to 20 years in prison.
Michael Pfeiffer, a lawyer for the Swiss Organization for Aid to Refugees (SFH), told the Le Matin newspaper that it is likely the co-pilot will remain in Switzerland in any case, because under the European Convention of Human Rights, he may not be sent back to a country where he is likely to be abused.
Ethiopia, which offers few guarantees of respect for human rights, has labelled him a “traitor” and is likely to try him in absentia, according to Pfeiffer. The expert added that even though the co-pilot probably won’t be granted formal asylum, he could be granted provisional refugee status in Switzerland because of Ethiopia’s human rights record.
The hijacking also exposed the vulnerability of Swiss airports at night or early morning as it emerged that Swiss fighter jets were unable to scramble at that hour due to budget constraints.