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Swedish Court Orders Hijack Suspect Held - 2002-09-02

A Swedish court has ordered a 29-year-old man to remain in custody while police investigate charges that he tried to hijack a Britain-bound airliner last week. The suspect, Kerim Chatty, also faces charges of sabotage and weapons violations.

State prosecutor Thomas Haeggstroem asked the court to give him two more weeks to develop evidence against Mr. Chatty. The suspect is a Swedish citizen whose father came from Tunisia.

Swedish police spokesman Ulf Palm explained the charges facing Mr. Chatty, who is suspected of attempted hijacking. "He is now also suspected of airplane sabotage, or airport sabotage, which is considered a most serious crime," he said. "And he is also charged with illegal possession of firearm."

Mr. Palm says police are investigating whether Mr. Chatty intended to crash the plane in a terrorist operation. He says foreign police agencies are involved in the case, but he would not name them.

Mr. Chatty was arrested Thursday at the airport in Vaesteraas, in eastern Sweden, after police found a handgun in his carry-on bag. He had planned to take a Ryanair flight to Birmingham, England, to attend an Islamic conference.

Mr. Chatty's lawyer says his client never intended to hijack the plane. The suspect reportedly told investigators he carried the gun because he felt threatened. He has a criminal record for theft and assault.

There are media reports that Mr. Chatty intended to crash an airliner into an American Embassy somewhere in Europe, but Swedish police have dismissed the stories. Swedish intelligence officers say Mr. Chatty did attend a U.S. aviation school several years ago. Officials at the school say he was expelled for lack of performance.

Some of the men who hijacked four U.S. airliners last September 11 also took flight training in the United States.