1 September 2002
Ryanair hijacker trained as pilot in US
By David Bamber and Julian Isherwood in Vasteras
The Muslim convert accused of trying to hijack a Ryanair plane from Sweden to Stansted attended an American flying school leaving with a qualification to pilot light aircraft.
The revelation that Kerim Chatty, 29, had taken flying lessons in the US - just like the September 11 terrorists - came as detectives investigated reports that he was planning to crash the plane into an American embassy in Europe, possibly London.
An intelligence officer in Sweden told Reuters: "We know for sure that the plan was to crash the plane into a US embassy in Europe."
If London were the target, the plane would have arrived at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square at around 5.35pm on Thursday, when the area would have been packed with workers and commuters.
There was confusion, however,
as to exactly what Chatty, a keep-fit fanatic with a Swedish mother and
Tunisian father, intended. Margareta Linderoth, the Swedish
They confirmed, however, that Chatty, who tried to board the Ryanair plane with a loaded gun in a sponge bag, knew how to fly. He spent some time at the North American Institute of Aviation (NAIA) flight school in Conway, South Carolina, leaving in early 1997.
Many of the hijackers of the four planes that were hijacked on September 11 also attended US flight schools.
The NAIA flight school confirmed that Chatty had studied there but said that he had been told to leave after two months because of his temper. Bob Sunday, a spokesman for the school, said: "My understanding is he was not a good student and was terminated from the school. He did not have a suitable temperament for flying."
Security officers in Sweden said Chatty did not leave with a full pilot's licence but had received a qualification allowing him to fly light aircraft.
Chatty was arrested on suspicion of hijacking, and possessing a firearm, after he tried to board a Ryanair Boeing 737 to Stansted, in Essex, carrying 189 people, with the weapon in his hand luggage. Security officials at the small Vasteras airport, 60 miles west of Stockholm, said the weapon was a 6.5mm pistol.
Chatty was believed to be on his way to a conference of Muslims in Birmingham dedicated to purifying Islam, run by Salafi Publications, an Islamic bookshop.
Salafi is a strong fundamentalist form of Islam that seeks to return the religion to ancient beliefs.
Adherents are thought to have included Mohamed Atta, the leader of the September 11 hijackers, who was carrying a Salafi tract in his luggage.
Abu Khadeejah, one of the organisers of the conference, said he did not know Chatty.
Police in Stockholm confirmed that Chatty was a Swedish citizen who adopted Islam a year ago. A former boxing champion, he was jailed for nine months in 1998 for possessing a machine pistol and has convictions for possessing a shotgun, theft, driving without a licence and receiving stolen goods.
Nils Uggla, Chatty's lawyer, said his client could explain why he had the gun and that he was not a terrorist. Mr Uggla said: "He denies that this has anything at all to do with terrorism or plane hijacking. He is deeply sorry that he caused trouble for the others who were travelling."
Chatty's parents, who have another son and two daughters, also protested his innocence, as they spoke from their luxury home, which overlooks a lake in a quiet village north of Stockholm.
His mother Gunilla, 54, reportedly said: "He is not a terrorist and it is outrageous for anyone to suggest it. This is all a mistake and it will be proved that our son is innocent. I cannot understand why he had that gun with him. I know it must be a mistake. He would never have hijacked that plane. I cannot stop crying about this. It is a catastrophe for our family."
She admitted, however, that her son had become increasingly committed to Islam. "He had met Muslims in Sweden and was interested in what they had to say, but after he returned from America he was much more serious about it."
Chatty's Tunisian-born father Sarok, 58, also defended his son. "When my son was 19, he was wild, stupid, and even crazy and kept bad company and did make some mistakes and minor misdemeanours, but he changed after those days.
"He acquired the gun then and had it with him since, but he never used it violently, or any way else and he never intended to use it."
Mr Chatty said that he believed that his son had forgotten that the gun was in his luggage after moving flat three months ago, although this contradicted Chatty's own claim that the gun was planted on him.
He said that Chatty had enjoyed a happy childhood and was "just a normal boy". "He was always very kind and popular. His teachers used to say that he was a peacemaker who would always break up fights in the playground."
Ulf Palm, a spokesman for the Swedish police, said that Chatty, who has been moved to a high security prison, would probably be charged on Monday.
He is being held on preliminary charges of attempting to hijack a plane and illegal possession of a firearm.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We are liaising as a matter of course with Swedish authorities and continue to offer every assistance. This may involve sending anti-terrorist officers in due course."
Further details of Chatty's months in the US emerged last night. After leaving his flying course in South Carolina, he moved to Pembroke Pines, a Florida town near Palm Beach and north of Miami, close to Delray Beach, where nine of the September 11 hijackers lived.
In Pembroke Pines, Chatty is reported to have lived in a flat with three or four other men of Arab appearance.
He is thought to have attended several other flying schools, including another in South Carolina and one in Florida.