First Published: 2006-05-17

Former Lebanese hijacker builds own plane

Hariri is ready to fly 400 kilogram plane he built with his own hands after nine months of continuous work.


Middle East Online

Inspired by books

DEIR QANUN AN-NAHR, Lebanon - After 17 years behind bars in a Swiss jail for hijacking a plane and killing a passenger, Hussein Hariri's dream now is to fly a plane he built with his own hands.

"One day when I was in prison, I landed on a book about planes dating back to World War II. I read it in 10 days," said Hariri, 39, who returned in 2004 to his native village of Deir Qanun an-Nahr, in southern Lebanon.

"I was so taken by the book that I contacted the University of Lausanne ... and they gave me all the books they had about planes," he said.

"I read hundreds of books on the aeronautical industry, over thousands of hours ... and here's my plane," he said proudly, showing off the "Pheonicia," a 4.5-meter-long (15-foot) aircraft weighing 400 kilograms (880 pounds).

It has three wheels and an Italian-made, 250-kilowatt engine.

"It took me nine months of continuous work to build it, and I know that it can fly. I sent a letter to President Emile Lahoud for authorization to try it out at the Rayak airbase" in eastern Lebanon, he said.

Hariri was sentenced to life in jail in 1989 for killing a passenger and seriously wounding a flight attendant during the hijacking of an Air Afrique flight to Geneva in 1987.

The aim of the kidnapping, which he staged at the age of 21, was to secure the release of two brothers jailed in the former West Germany on terrorism charges.

Hariri was expelled to Lebanon in October 2004.

"I was in solitary confinement for three years, then a Swiss prisoners' association encouraged me to read," said the former hijacker, who was formerly close to Lebanon's radical Shiite movement Hezbollah.

"For four years, I read books on Western philosophy and civilizations before being put in charge of distributing 10,000 books from the prison library to the detainees," he said.

"Today, I consider myself a neutral person. I have no links with any party or organisation," said Hariri.


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