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Friday, September 14, 2012

Ghost of IC 814 haunts - was Dand arrested in J&K - top terrorist linked to hijack ?

The very mention of those numbers would rankle badly in memory of every Nation loving citizen and now there are conflicting reports of the bitter incident.

IC 814 – the Indian Airlines Flight - Airbus A300 en route from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal to Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi was hijacked on that fateful Friday, December 24, 1999 by terrorists purportedly belonging to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based group.  The aircraft was hijacked by gunmen shortly after it entered Indian airspace at about 17:30 IST. After touching down in Amritsar, Lahore and Dubai, the hijackers forced the aircraft to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The hijackers released 27 of 176 passengers in Dubai but fatally stabbed one and wounded several others.

India's lack of recognition of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan complicated negotiations between Indian authorities and the hijackers. Taliban moved its well-armed fighters near the hijacked aircraft in an attempt to prevent Indian special forces from storming the aircraft. The hijacking lasted for seven days and ended after India released three militants — Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar,Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar.  The identities of the hijackers according to the Indian Government were:Ibrahim Azhar, Bahawalpur, Pakistan; Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Karachi, Pakistan; Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Karachi, Pakistan; Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim, Karachi, Pakistan and Shakir, Sukkur, Pakistan.

From Lahore, the  aircraft took off for Dubai where 27 passengers aboard the flight were released. The hijackers also released a critically injured 25-year-old Indian male, Rupin Katyal, who was stabbed by the hijackers multiple times. Rupin had actually died before the aircraft landed in DubaiAmong those released, were Maulana Masood Azhar — founder of  Jaish-e-Muhammed in 2000 which gained notoriety for its alleged role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack.  After the traded  three militants landed in Kandahar, the hostages aboard the flight were freed. On December 31, 1999, the freed hostages of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 were flown back to India on a special plane.  The three militants were later escorted by Taliban across Pakistani border. Pakistan denied that any of the militants are in Pakistan, but it was discovered later that all three terrorists Maulana Masood Azhar (living in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan), Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl from Lahore, Pakistan) and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar (also living in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan) were in Pakistan.

Yesterday, reports were abuzz that J&K Police in India have  arrested Mehrajuddin Dand alias Javed, suspected for providing fake travel documents and logistical support to the hijackers of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in 1999. Allegedly a top man of the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI) and considered the right hand man of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, Mehrajuddin is also said to have links with Dawood Ibrahim. Reports stated that besides being an important fundraiser, he was also allegedly involved in many terror activities, including 1996 Lajpat Nagar blasts.

But hours after the news spread, before people could rejoice on the arrest of a key terrorist there were reports citing Investigators that the  man described as key plotter had no role in Kandahar terror tragedy.  It was reported that the man held by Police was Mehrajuddin Dand, a resident of the north Kashmir town of Sopore, who had  returned to India last week, after spending several years in Pakistan and Nepal, following negotiations with local police officials. Hundreds of other former jihadists living in Pakistan have returned to the State in similar circumstances since 2006, mainly members of the largely ethnic-Kashmiri Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.  Quoting some high sources, news suggested that though the man was questioned on information relating to the hijacking, he was not a suspect in the actual hijacking.”  One reports quoting Police suggested that investigations are about  Dand’s possible contacts with Arshad Cheema —an Inter-Services Intelligence-linked Pakistani diplomat who was expelled from Nepal in 2001 after authorities in that country found 16 kg of plastic explosive in his home. Cheema was spotted at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport on the morning of the hijacking. However, charges filed by the Central Bureau of Investigations against the alleged hijackers in 2000 did not claim  Cheema had a role in the hijacking.

Though Dand may not be any key terror commander, he  had been held for a year under the State’s controversial preventive detention law, the Public Safety Act and was among dozens of Jamaat-e-Islami youth who crossed the Line of Control in 1987 from the Sopore region.

The ghost of IC814 continues to haunt badly

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
14th Sept. 2012.

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