Two Libyan men who on Friday diverted an Afriqiyah Airways plane to Malta were taken to court under heavy police escort early this afternoon and pleaded not guilty to a range of charges including hijacking.

Moussa Saha and Ali Ahmed Saleh, both in their 20s, were taken into the law courts building at noon, handcuffed and escorted by policemen wearing bullet proof vests and helmets and carrying automatic weapons.

A crowd of about 200 people watched as the two were taken into the building through the front door.

Both accused looked subdued.

They face a host of charges including hijacking, possession of imitation weapons, using violence against a person on board the flight, holding people against their will, making threats of violence and attempting to cause financial or economic instability for a government of international institution.

They are liable for life imprisonment if convicted of hijacking.

Lawyers Patrick Valentino and Mark Mifsud represented the accused.

During the arraignment Mr Salah when asked about his occupation said he 'did everything'. Moussa said he was a former student.

No request for bail was made but Mr Moussa asked to be able to communicate with his family and to be allowed to pray.

Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera said the accused would be allowed to pray like all people of all religions. As for communication with his family, the usual procedures would be followed. 

According to reports the two refused to reply to police questioning during interrogation at police headquarters. The reasons for the hijack are still a mystery. 

Using what later turned out to be fake weapons and explosives,  the two men took over the plane as it flew from Sabha and Tripoli.

They threatened to blow up the plane but it all ended peacefully when the 111 passengers and seven crew members were released.

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela yesterday quashed speculation that the two Libyans would be handed over to the Libyan authorities for prosecution. 

Contrary to some reports in the international media, no request for political asylum was made, he confirmed.

Meanwhile all passengers as well as the crew members were flown back to Libya during the early hours of yesterday, after being questioned by the police.

The Afriqiyah Airways flight landed at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport around 5am and was greeted by a number of well-wishers, one of who was waving a Libyan flag.

The gesture was perceived to be in defiance of one of the hijackers who at one point waved the former green Libyan flag of the Muammar Gaddafi era as he emerged from the hijacked plane in Malta.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Friday that no demands had been made by the hijackers, and their motives and the circumstances surrounding the case still seemed to be shrouded in mystery yesterday.

The hostages’ serene expression as they emerged from the plane, as well as the news that the hand grenade and pistols used by the hijackers were replicas, only served to fuel speculation about the saga, especially on social media.

Government sources told this newspaper that the Maltese authorities were relying exclusively on the information being relayed to them by the pilot.

“We were told that the hijackers were armed and had explosives and took measures accordingly,” one source said.

The news that the weapons were fake was only communicated to the Prime Minister by Armed Forces Commander Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi late in the evening, about an hour-and-a-half after Dr Muscat’s news conference.

The AFM chief was in charge of the coordinating team and was in constant communication with the hijackers and crew.

“The weapons and explosives only turned out to be fake after being scanned by an X-ray machine,” a source said.

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