ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- The uncle of an Ethiopian pilot who hijacked a flight to Rome and took it to Geneva said on Tuesday that his nephew had been distraught over the loss of another uncle.
The uncle, Alemu Asmamaw, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that 31-year-old co-pilot Hailemedhin Abera was in emotional distress over the past month following the sudden death of an uncle. He did not say how Hailemedhin's uncle died.
"I fear that the death of his uncle...has put a strain on his life," he said. He named the uncle as Emiru Seyoum and said he taught at Ethiopia's Addis Ababa University. An obituary for Emiru Seyoum on the Addis Ababa University website said the associate professor died suddenly on Jan. 1 while going from his home to the university.
Hailemedhin, who had worked for Ethiopian Airlines for five years, on Monday locked the pilot of a Rome-bound flight out of the cockpit and then diverted the plane to Geneva, where he sought asylum. The flight had taken off from Addis Ababa.
Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for Ethiopia's government, told reporters on Monday that Hailemedhin had no prior criminal record. Redwan said the government would seek Hailemedhin's extradition from Switzerland, where he is now in custody.
Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said the co-pilot will be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years.