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Kazakh would-be hijacker has no terror link: Rome police

29 april 2011, 16:33
REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi©
REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi©
A Kazakh man who tried to hijack a Paris-Rome flight and divert the plane to Libya's capital Tripoli suffers from depression and has no links to terrorism, AFP reports citing investigators.

Police questioned Valery Tolmashev, 48, for five hours after he threatened an air hostess with a small knife on the Alitalia flight around 1930 GMT on Sunday.

The father-of-two lives in Paris and had never been to Italy, nor did he know anyone who lived there, investigators said.

He was being held at the Civitavecchia prison and is accused of hostage taking and attempting to hijack a plane.

Reports say Tolmashev was an adviser to Kazakhstan's delegation at UNESCO, the UN educational, scientific and cultural organization based in Paris, and had a history of mental health problems.

He has no police record or known links with international terrorism, according to the Italian inquiry team.

Passengers helped cabin crew wrestle the man to the floor after he held a blade to a female flight attendant's neck about an hour into the flight and insisted that the plane land in Tripoli.

According to a reconstruction provided by investigators, the chief cabin attendant tried to reason with the man, who was agitated and burst out laughing without reason.

He was overpowered when he lost his balance while making his way to the cockpit, his hostage in tow.

A doctor on board administered a sedative and the plane, with 131 passengers on board, landed safely at Rome's Fiumicino airport at 2005 GMT. The other passengers had been questioned, and investigators have ruled out that he had an accomplice on board.

The hostess, traumatised and slightly bruised in the neck, was treated at the airport.

Investigators said the man, who was in a confused mental state and had recently been treated for depression, did not give an explanation for his actions.

Sources close to the investigation said he was travelling on a diplomatic passport.

A border control official at Rome Airport, Raffaella Navarra, said the weapon used was a "very small pocket knife".

The investigation has yet to determine how Tolmashev had managed to get the knife through airport security.

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