Ex-officer with history of mental illness behind hijack attempt, police say

Associated Press

Nov. 27, 2002 12:15 PM

LYON, France - A former Italian policeman with a history of mental illness tried to hijack an Italian jetliner Wednesday, claiming he was an al-Qaida terrorist with a bomb, police said. The same man hijacked a plane three years ago and held hostages for three hours.

Stefano Savorani, 29, was arrested after he tried to hijack the Paris-bound Alitalia plane claiming he had a box of explosives. The jet landed safely in the southern French city of Lyon, and no injuries were reported.

"Oh God, he's done it again," his mother, Orella Savorani, told the Italian news agency ANSA after learning about Wednesday's incident in Lyon.

French authorities said it was not immediately known why he was not in prison for the earlier hijacking.

Savorani, who was dismissed from the police force for mental illness, hijacked an Air France jetliner carrying 76 passengers three years ago after threatening to blow up the plane. He surrendered after releasing 12 hostages.

The suspect's mother said he was being treated for schizophrenia and that she began worrying about where he was when he failed to return after borrowing about $500 to pay his fees for a university in Bologna, Italy.

The Paris-bound Alitalia jet, which took off from Bologna, was over Switzerland when Savorani stood up, brandished a rectangular box and threatened to blow up the plane, police said.

"I belong to an al-Qaida network. I want to make a declaration to the press," Savorani told passengers.

It was unclear whether he forced the plane to land in Lyon or whether it was the pilot's decision. Alitalia said 57 passengers and seven crew members were on board.

Enzo Bianco, head of the Italian parliamentary committee on secret services, said the suspect was "disarmed and captured," the Italian news agency Ap.Biscom reported.

"This makes us breathe a sigh of relief at the help from the French police who captured this sole hijacker," he said.

French police said that in addition to the earlier plane hijacking, Savorani also commandeered an Italian train in 1998 with a fake weapon.

"It's the same person," a police spokesman said. "He's done it again."

The diversion of the plane comes as France has been steeling itself against possible terrorist actions.

French police have arrested at least 18 people in recent days suspected of being involved in terrorist groups in a series of raids in and around Paris.

Earlier Wednesday, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told the lower house of Parliament that authorities were exercising "extreme vigilance" against a possible attack.

Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said in an interview published this week that France was a leading target of terrorist groups.

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