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Hijacker nears sentence end

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 3/01/2017

New Zealand's only convicted airline hijacker will complete her sentence next month but health officials have the power to keep her detained for mental health treatment.

Asha Ali Abdille, 42, is nearing the end of her nine-year prison term for the 2008 hijacking of a 19-seat Air New Zealand flight between Blenheim and Christchurch. She stabbed the two pilots before they made an emergency landing.

Abdille's case was reviewed by the Parole Board last month, where it declined an early release.

In its redacted report, the board notes her sentence expires on February 7 and hospital staff's concerns for risky behaviour when released.

"In the past Ms Abdille has said she will attempt to hijack another plane and has threatened to set herself on fire," panel convenor Kathryn Snook said, without specifying how long ago that was.

The Ministry of Health won't comment specifically on Abdille's case, however it has confirmed she is a special patient and spelled out what it can do in such cases.

When special patients reach the end of their sentence they become ordinary patients subject to compulsory treatment orders for mental disorders, and it is up to their doctor as to whether they remain there.

In rare cases where patients pose a danger to others, the ministry could apply to the District Court for restricted patient status where the ministry or minister of health must approve them leaving care, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Parole Board has put special conditions on Adbille's release, which can only last for six months.

She cannot enter any airport or travel on an aeroplane, must take prescribed medicine and see mental health professionals.

Air New Zealand refused to comment on measures it might take to prevent Abdille flying again if she leaves care.

Previous parole decisions have revealed Abdille has been involved in many incidents in prison - one resulting in her being seriously injured.

However, there had been a positive response to her taking the antipsychotic drug clozapine.

New Zealand Airline Pilots Association president Tim Robinson says they are assured by reports Abdille will be under the compulsory care of the mental health system.

"I am confident, given the risks to airline security that Ms Abdille still appears to represent, that the health and security authorities will be cooperating closely to ensure every measure is taken to protect airlines, their staff and the travelling public."

The 2008 incident, which terrified passengers and crew, was the only in-flight aircraft hijacking in New Zealand history.

Abdille, a Somali refugee, demanded to be taken to Australia and said she was going to crash the plane. She tried to interfere with cockpit controls and the captain was badly injured.

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