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'Hijack Selfie' Photo Subject Sought Fame In Dangerous Circumstances

Ben Innes (right) poses for a picture with EgyptAir hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa. Despite not actually being a selfie, it's known as the "hijack selfie."
Paul Smith
Screen shot by NPR
Ben Innes (right) poses for a picture with EgyptAir hijacker Seif Eldin Mustafa. Despite not actually being a selfie, it's known as the "hijack selfie."

What would you consider "the best selfie ever"?

A shot of yourself alongside the pope, the president, Angela Merkel, Lin Manuel Miranda or Steph Curry?

This week Ben Innes, a health and safety auditor from Leeds, Great Britain, used those words to send out a photo in which he posed with the man who hijacked his plane.

The hijacker has what looks like a suicide vest of explosives strapped to his chest. Ben Innes is grinning.

"I'm not sure why I did it," Mr. Innes told The Sun. "I just threw caution to the wind while trying to stay cheerful in the face of adversity. I figured if his bomb was real I'd nothing to lose anyway, so I took a chance to get a closer look at it."

The bomb was not real. The hijacker who took over EgyptAir MS181 turned out to be a troubled man who wanted to attract the attentions of his ex-wife, and not a terrorist from ISIS, or al-Qaida. He is now in custody. But any person who hijacks an airplane terrorizes people.

The hijacking lasted six hours. The plane, bound for Cairo, was diverted to Cyprus. The hijacker let many people off the plane, but kept the crew aboard and four passengers.

At some point, flight attendants who tried to keep the hijacker in good humor asked to pose for photos with him, to send them to authorities to identify the man.

Ben Innes approached to ask if he could take a photo, too.

A flight attendant snapped the picture; I wonder if anybody said, "Cheese!"

Ben Innes then sent his photo to several friends with the message, "You know your boy doesn't"--then a word we can't say--"about. Turn on the news lad!!!"

They sure did. His roommate told the Daily Mail, "I find it pretty mental but that's just Ben I guess!"

Ben Innes is 26 years of age. He was no doubt worried aboard that plane, despite the smile he wears in the photo, or the bravado of his text messages. Those of us who have never been on a hijacked plane with a man who looks like he has a bomb strapped to his chest should probably be slow to criticize.

But it's hard not to wonder why someone would pose for a smiling selfie with a hijacker, instead of, say, the highly professional flight attendants who worked to keep their passengers from harm. Is it just because the hijacker was famous, no matter what hideous thing he did to become so for a few minutes in the middle of a news cycle?

Ben Innes posed with the hijacker and became briefly famous himself. But his brief fling with stardom may follow him for the rest of his life.

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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