Brother says accused Tunisian was forced to captain migrant boat at gunpoint

Mohammed Ali Malek (R) speaks with his lawyer Massimo Ferrante at Catania’s tribunal, April 24, 2015. REUTERS/ANTONIO PARRINELLO

(Reuters) – The Tunisian man accused of piloting a migrant boat that sank off Libya, killing more than 700 people, is himself a migrant who was forced at gunpoint to captain the ship because of his experience as a fisherman, his brother said on Saturday.

Italian authorities say the man named in court as Mohammed Ali Malek, 27, was in charge of the heavily overloaded fishing boat that capsized shortly before midnight on April 18 with hundreds of African and Bangladeshi migrants locked below deck.

The man’s brother told Reuters the Tunisian’s real name was Nourredine Mahjoub and he had first traveled clandestinely to Europe five years ago, spending time in Italy and France before being deported. He had recently returned to Libya seeking work.

“My brother was recruited by Libyans to work in a cafe in Libya a few weeks ago, but afterwards he was forced under threat by smugglers to pilot the voyage because he knows a little about the sea and worked with our father fishing,” the brother, Makrem Mahjoub, said by telephone…

How convenient. Keep pushing the responsibility on: I was forced at gunpoint by mysterious men now impossible to locate in North Africa.