- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

LONDON Swedish police yesterday charged an Arab man who tried to bring a loaded pistol onto a Stockholm-London flight with planning to hijack the jetliner.

Authorities at Vasteras airport, 60 miles northwest of Stockholm, said they found the handgun in the 29-year-old suspect's hand luggage and grabbed him as he tried to board Ryanair Flight FR685 Thursday evening as it prepared to leave for London with 189 passengers aboard.

"We believe he was going to hijack the plane," Swedish police spokesman Ulf Palm said. The airport had been put on increased alert with the approach of the anniversary of the September 11 hijack attacks on the United States.

The gunman, identified only as an Arab born in Sweden to Tunisian parents, was formally charged with planning to hijack the aircraft, and authorities said he also may be charged with illegal possession of a firearm. Television and radio reports said he was ordered held in jail pending a hearing in a Swedish court next week.

Police said the suspect and some 20 companions were en route to an Islamic festival in Birmingham, England, when he was apprehended. The other members of the group were reported to have been released after several hours of questioning.

Scotland Yard police in London said it was working closely with Swedish police and that anti-terrorist and Special Branch detectives were flown to Stockholm yesterday to question the gunman.

Elin Dermeborg, a Swedish social worker who was one of the Ryanair passengers, told reporters when she landed in London that "there was a group of about 20, some were wearing Muslim clothing, and they said they were on their way to an Islamic summit meeting in the U.K."

In Birmingham, some 3,000 delegates were attending yesterday's opening session of the Sixth Islamic National Conference, a festival for followers of Salafi, a fundamentalist sect. Terrorist specialists said Salafi teachings are popular with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization.

Bin Laden and al Qaeda engineered the September 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the crash of a fourth jetliner in Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 people died in the attacks.

Abu Khadeejan, one of the Islamic meeting organizers, told British Broadcasting Corp. radio the Birmingham conference was sponsored by salafipublications.com, an online company that he insisted had no connections with terrorism.

"The one thing salafipublications.com is known for is refuting and exposing those types of ideologies within the fold of Islam that try to put forward the type of viewpoint that you can hijack and take the lives of innocent individuals," Mr. Khadeejan said.

As Swedish police awaited arrival of British detectives, Mr. Palm confirmed that they were investigating a suspected link between the arrested man and terrorist organizations. "We can't rule that out, and that is something we're looking into," he said.

He declined to release further details about the suspect. "We are going to hold back on the information for the nearest future since this is now a criminal investigation," Mr. Palm said.

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