International arrest warrant issued after Ivorian accused in El Hiblu case 'disappears'

Court told Koni Tiemoko Abdoul Khader failed to sign bail book at least 18 times

n the El Hiblu 3 case, three teenagers were arrested for translating between a captain and a crew
n the El Hiblu 3 case, three teenagers were arrested for translating between a captain and a crew

One of the three youths accused of hijacking the tanker El Hiblu I, Koni Tiemoko Abdoul Khader, has been placed on the international wanted list after he failed to turn up in court, with police saying that he had not signed his bail book for the past 6 weeks.

When today’s sitting before Magistrate Nadine Lia began on Wednesday morning, Inspector Omar Zammit informed the court that Koni Tiemoko Abdoul Khader had not been served with a summons for today’s sitting because he couldn’t be traced.

Khader had last signed his bail book at the beginning of August, he said.

Defence lawyer Neil Falzon told the court that he had last communicated with Khader on WhatsApp a few days after the last sitting. He received an email in mid-August from the man’s probation officer informing the lawyer that she was unable to contact his client.  Falzon said that he had also tried to call the defendant’s phone but did not get through.

Defence lawyer Gianluca Cappitta informed the court that the last time he had communicated with the defendant was in June.

One of the other defendants, Amara, told the Magistrate that he shared an apartment with Khader and had last seen him in August. The third accused, Abdalla, did not live with the other two.

Magistrate Lia dictated a note to the Commissioner of Police, asking to be told why her court was only being informed today that one of the defendants had not signed his bail book, “for at least six weeks, when they are obliged to sign three times a week.”

The court upheld a prosecution request to issue a European Arrest Warrant and an International Arrest Warrant for Khader.

The case was adjourned to later this month.

The three young men from the Ivory Coast and Guinea, until now only identified by their first names – Abdalla, Khader and Amara, stand accused of hijacking the ship that had rescued them, by allegedly coercing the captain into not transporting them -and the rest of the 108 people his crew had plucked from the sea - back to Libya, where they feared persecution and torture.

The three youths have consistently denied doing anything wrong - an assertion backed up by almost all of the many witnesses who took the stand during the compilation of evidence against them. They told the court that the defendants had acted as intermediaries between the people rescued and the captain, often describing the accused men as having been a calming influence on the group.

The Maltese authorities had sparked international outcry by defining the incident as “piracy” and charging the three youths - aged just 15, 16 and 19 at the time - with a series of serious offences, some under counter-terrorism legislation.

International human rights bodies, Amnesty International and Sea Watch amongst them, have repeatedly called upon the Maltese authorities to drop the charges, to no avail.

Inspectors Omar Zammit and Jeffrey Cutajar are prosecuting on behalf of the Commissioner of Police.

Lawyers Neil Falzon, Cedric Mifsud and Gianluca Cappitta are assisting the accused men.