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December 25, 1999


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Hijackers want Harkat leader released

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Onkar Singh, Tara Shankar Sahay, Neena Haridas in New Delhi

In this story:
Rupin Katyal died soon after his wedding
Kashmiri separatists deny involvement

The hijackers of Flight 814 want Maulana Masood Azhar, the Harkat-ul Ansar secretary who has been imprisoned in Delhi's Tihar jail for six years, to be released along with some other Kashmiri militants. Unconfirmed reports say the Maulana's younger brother is one of the hijackers.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has conveyed this demand to the United Nations headquarters in New York as the hijackers believe only the UN can end the crisis.

The hijackers are unwilling to leave Afghanistan despite a request to this effect by the Taliban. They also want to fly to Kabul from Kandahar. However, it is unlikely that their demand will be conceded tonight, since Kabul airport has no night landing facilities.

According to the BBC, a Kandahar airport official said the air pirates told Taliban officials that they would land in Kabul if forced to leave the airport. "If permission for landing in Kabul is not given, then we will crash the plane... We won't leave Afghanistan," the official quoted a hijacker as saying.

India expects developments in resolving the crisis on Sunday, Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh told reporters today. "I expect developments to take shape sometime tomorrow morning. The government is taking all steps that are prudent and effective," he added.

However, he revealed that there was no third-party mediation to end the crisis. Asked if any country had offered its services to resolve the issue, the minister contended, "India has taken the initiative in all these matters."

Denying any role in the incident, Pakistan has also 'begun talks' with the Taliban to end the crisis. A senior minister and Pakistan's ambassador in Kabul are said to be involved in the negotiations.

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has assured India of all co-operation in handling the situation. However, it is yet to take a decision on helping New Delhi in securing the release of the passengers and crew of the Indian Airlines plane.

The ruling Taliban rejected a request for political asylum from the hijackers and asked them to leave Kandahar.

"The hijackers wanted political asylum, but we have rejected that," an official at Kandahar airport said. "We are discussing their departure." The official said the Indian government had asked the Taliban not to permit Flight 814 to take off. He said the Taliban was trying to resolve the issue without any further loss of life.

According to unconfirmed reports, the aircraft, which has 161 people on board, has been refuelled.

The hijackers were also 'identified' in a phone call to the air control authorities at the Delhi airport this afternoon. Claiming the hijackers were members of the Islamic Salvation Front, an unidentified caller demanded the release of three of their comrades imprisoned in India.

However, Jaswant Singh said the government did not have any information about the identity of the hijackers. He said the Centre was not aware of their 'demands'.

While diplomatic efforts continued, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Chamanlal Gupta ruled out the immediate release of the passengers aboard the Indian Airlines flight.

The passengers were served with food, fruits and soft drinks, Gupta added. They have also been supplied with blankets. Kandahar is very cold. The forecast for Saturday was a high of 18 degrees Celsius and a low of minus 10 degrees.

In another development, Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden reiterated that India, the US and Russia are the enemies of Islam. He said the jihad in Kashmir would continue. His statement comes less than 24 hours after the hijack.

After 13 hours of high drama, the Airbus 300 landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second biggest city, at 0833 IST on Saturday, though it was earlier headed for Kabul.

Early this morning, Aviation Secretary Ravinder Gupta said the air traffic control at Kandahar indicated it would not allow any of the passengers to disembark. However, the Afghan authorities said they would provide all humanitarian assistance to the crew and passengers.

The hijackers asked for food, medical assistance and more fuel at Kandahar. It is not known why they need more fuel since the aircraft obtained 30,000 litres of aviation turbine fuel in the UAE this morning. "They are silent about their demands," one official at Delhi airport said.

Rupin Katyal died soon after his wedding

The hijackers released three men (two of them above the age of 70), nine women, 13 children and one unidentified person from the Airbus 300 at a military base near Dubai in the United Arab Emirates before taking off for Afghanistan, Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani said.

Officials confirmed that at least one passenger had been killed and one is grievously injured. Reports said the slain passenger had been stabbed to death. The dead victim has been identified by the authorities as Rupin Katyal, 25.

A resident of Delhi, Rupin got married on December 3 and flown to Kathmandu for his honeymoon. His wife Rachna is still aboard the plane. His father was rushed to hospital in a critical condition after he took ill on hearing about his son's death. He was to return on Wednesday, but delayed his return by two fateful days. Indian Airlines have set up a medical team at Delhi airport to look after the relatives of the passengers.

All those released were Indian nationals, UAE defence officials said. The nationality of the hijackers, who were carrying grenades and knives, was not known, the officials added. The two 70-plus passengers, who asked not to be identified, were present at the press conference. One of them told reporters that it was difficult to identify the hijackers as they were wearing turbans.

"They asked us not to move or they would shoot. All the passengers were blindfolded by the hijackers. However, there were no gun shots," the released men said. '"We were released because of our age," they said.

Medical reports from Dubai suggest that the released passengers are in good condition, though some of them are slightly injured.

The chronology

  • IA Flight 814 takes off from Kathmandu at 1615 hours on Friday. Air traffic control is reported as asserting that shots were heard on the plane.
  • The five armed hijackers make pilot Captain D Saran divert the plane over Lucknow and head for Lahore in Pakistan.
  • The Lahore airport authorities refuse the aircraft permission to land, forcing it to head back to Amritsar.
  • The plane lands at Amritsar where the hijackers demand that the aircraft be refuelled. The airport is sealed off.
  • The airport authorities send over a tanker for refuelling, but due to some problem seek that the aircraft be brought closer to the tank.
  • After a 25-minute wait, the hijackers make the aircraft take off and head for Lahore, with just enough fuel for the trip.
  • India persuades the Pakistani authorities to permit the aircraft to land.
  • Lahore airport is sealed off.
  • The aircraft nearly 'crashlands' and is surrounded by Pakistan commandos.
  • It is refuelled and headed for Kabul. But because of the lack of night-landing facilities there, and later, at Kandahar, the plane is diverted towards Dubai...
  • It finally lands at the Al-Minhat air force base. The hijackers demand food, medicines and a step ladder since none is available.
  • The UAE officials agree to negotiate if the women and children are allowed to disembark.
  • The hijackers release 25 passengers, and allow the body of one dead passenger to be released to the UAE authorities.
  • Early on Saturday morning, the plane takes off from Dubai for Afghanistan. At 0855 IST, it lands at Kandahar.
  • The plane stays at Kandahar airport all of Saturday. The crew and passengers are provided with blankets, food, fruit and water. The plane is also refuelled.
  • Late on Saturday night, the hijackers demand Harkat-ul Ansar general secretary Maulana Masood Azhar's release from Tihar jail, along with some other Kashmiri militants.

Kashmiri separatists deny involvement

An alliance of Kashmiri separatist groups claimed it is not involved in the hijacking of Flight 814. 'None of the militant groups engaged in Kashmir are linked with this hijack nor does our faith and our sacred struggle permit the murder of any innocent person,' a statement issued by the 14-group Muttahida Jihad Council in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan said.

'This hijacking can be a heinous plot to cover up the running of state terrorism by the Indian army in Kashmir,' the statement said, claiming the hijack was an Indian government conspiracy.

The Lashkar-e-Toiba, which was earlier suspected of masterminding the hijack, also denied its involvement in the air piracy. The Lashkar has been behind many recent attacks in Kashmir, including the attack on the army headquarters in Srinagar where several soldiers died.

The Islamic Salvation Front in Kashmir is shrouded in mystery and J&K watchers do not have an idea about its origins.

The Indian Airlines plane left the Al-Minhat military base at 0447 Dubai Time (0617 IST) after taking in 30,000 litres of aviation turbine fuel and appeared to be headed for Kabul. Later, however, it landed in Kandahar, though the reason for the change of plan was not clear. India does not recognise the Taliban regime and has no diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Nurullah Zardar said the Indian government had requested permission to allow the plane to land in Afghanistan because the Airbus was running short of fuel. Advani had earlier said the flight to Afghanistan was "a matter of concern."

Asked if the hijackers had any links with the Taliban, Zardar said, "None whatsoever." He said the hijackers wanted to land at Kabul or Kandahar last night, but neither airport has the appropriate landing gear after being ravaged in that nation's civil war.

The plane has already taken off and landed eight times in less than 24 hours. And while international safety regulations prohibit a pilot from flying more than seven hours, Captain Saran and his crew have been at the job for well over 32 hours now.

Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav left Dubai this evening in a special IA Airbus 320 with the 25 passengers who had been released by the hijackers.

The aircraft, with 25 of the 26 released passengers on board, took off at 1950 IST from Dubai. One of the injured passengers is still in a Dubai hospital.

The take-off of the plane, which was initially scheduled to reach New Delhi by 1830 IST, was delayed due to Yadav's insistence that Rupin Katyal's body should be taken in the aircraft. The body was handed over to Indian authorities after completion of formalities, sources said.

The special plane is expected to reach New Delhi at 2300 IST.

Addressing the media in Dubai, Yadav quoted the released passengers as saying there were six hijackers. Earlier reports had put their number at five. However, Jaswant Singh said indications were that there were seven hijackers.

The passengers were released following negotiations by a high-powered team of UAE government representatives led by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Meanwhile, Ram Chameli, the mother of some of the passengers on board Flight 814, has threatened to immolate herself at Delhi airport if her children are not released to her. She wants the government to accede to the hijackers's demands and get the passengers released.

Rakesh Mehta, a passenger who flew from Kathmandu on a Royal Nepal Airlines flight on Friday soon after Flight 814 left Nepal, told reporters at Delhi airport that there was virtually no security at the Tribhuvan international airport. Mehta, whose colleague Anup Sharma is aboard Flight 814, said, "I am not surprised the hijackers got away carrying the weapons. Even the men manning the x-ray machine did not look interested in what we were carrying."

Additional reportage: UNI


Contact numbers at Delhi airport for information:

011-565-2011 (Extension 2508)
011-569 6201
011-565 2173

Click here for the list of passengers released in Dubai
Click here for the list of passengers on the hijacked plane


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