9/11 rears its head in SA skies

News24 – SAPA

Cape Town – Images of the terrorist attacks on September 11 in the United States flashed through the minds of police when they heard of an attempted hijacking of a domestic flight on June 17. Superintendent Lungisile Manyana said this in testimony at Bellville magistrate’s court in Cape Town on Wednesday. “At the airport, everybody was emotional and worried, running here and there,” he said. Manyana was speaking at the bail application of Tinashe Rioga, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean who faces charges of contravening the Civil Aviation Act and of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Rioga allegedly brandished a hypodermic syringe during an abortive hijacking attempt, before being overpowered by passengers on board a Cape Town – Johannesburg flight.

Had held her around the neck

Led by prosecutor Wimpie Els, Manyana told magistrate Susanna Marais that by the time he took Rioga into custody, the situation was already under control and the task force had subdued the young man. “The accused was lying outside (the aircraft) with his hands cuffed.” Manyana said one of the crew, Nicole Scott, claimed in an affidavit that Rioga had held her around the neck with one hand and had the hypodermic syringe in the other. He demanded to be let into the cockpit, while pointing the syringe towards her eyes. Scott said Rioga had threatened, “in an aggressive manner and loud tone,” to kill her if she did not obey. Two passengers, one of them an off-duty SAA pilot, overpowered Rioga and Scott freed herself. Manyana was still waiting for the police forensic laboratory to return results of any substances found in the syringe. Asked what Rioga had offered as explanation for his actions, Manyana said the suspect had showed him “threatening” sms messages he had received on his cellphone a week before the attempted hijacking. Manyana said Rioga had thought about the threats and the possibility that the person who had sent them was waiting for him at Johannesburg International Airport, and so he tried to divert to plane to Mozambique or Botswana. “…so that he can be safe there,” said Manyana, adding that this was no reason to justify endangering the lives of other passengers on the flight. Regarding the syringe, Rioga had said he had wanted to “inject myself with flu medicine”, but no medication was found on him. Manyana said the State had a “very strong” case against Rioga, who faced between five and 30 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

Has family in the US

He said from his experience on the police force, Rioga could evade trial if he was granted bail. More so, because the only reason why he was in the country was to complete his final year as a B Sc student in applied computer literacy at the University of Cape Town. Manyana said Rioga was a frequent flyer, visiting family in the United States four times in the past two years, as well as family in Zimbabwe. Josua Greeff, appearing for Rioga, read an affidavit from him into the court record.