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Hijackers seek five militants’ release
Tribune News Service and agencies

NEW DELHI, Dec 25 — The Taliban militia in Afghanistan tonight said the hijackers of the Indian Airlines aircraft were Kashmiri militants demanding release of five of their colleagues from Indian jails, according to a report from Islamabad.

There was no confirmation to the fact that four passengers had been killed, but the body of a 25-year-old youth hailing from New Delhi, identified as Rupen Katyal, had been handed over to the authorities at Dubai. The body was then flown to Delhi along with released hostages in special Indian Airlines flight. Rupen, who was stabbed to death by the hijackers, was the only death on board which had been confirmed. The hijackers also seriously injured another passenger. It was now clear that all passengers on board had been blindfolded.

The hijackers released 27 passengers at Dubai, mostly women and children and two aged men. However, the wife of Rupen Katyal who had gone to Kathmandu for honeymoon, was still on board the plane.

The IC 814 flight, which was stationed at the Dubai airport after it took off from the Lahore airport early today, finally landed at the Kandahar airport in the morning at about 7.33 local time (8.33 a.m IST) after 27 passengers were released following negotiations with the authorities there. This was the fourth stop of the Airbus A-300 flight after it was hijacked over Lucknow.

Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil said one of the hijackers had identified himself as Ibrahim, a Kashmiri and demanded the release of his brother, Maulvi Masood Azar, and four others detained in India.

Mr Muttawakil said in their first direct contact with the Taliban authorities since landing in Kandahar this morning, the hijackers said the Indian Government was aware whose release they were demanding.

He said the Taliban were in touch with the Indian authorities who have sought “utmost restraint” considering the safety of passengers.

The Taliban authorities through their representative in the United Nations had also asked the world body to send a UN monitoring team to Afghanistan to deal with the situation so that they should not be blamed for any eventuality.

The government late tonight confirmed that the hijackers of the Indian Airlines airbus had demanded release of “some jailed Kashmiri militants”.

In a fax message received here from the Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan, where the hijacked aircraft landed this morning from Dubai, the hijackers had demanded release of five jailed militants but gave only the name of Maulana Masood Azhar, leader of Harkat-ul-Ansar rechristened as Harkat-ul-Jehad.

Giving details of the fax message, Civil Aviation Secretary Ravinder Gupta said the communication made it clear that “Taliban does not support acts of terrorism."

He told reporters here that the government was seized of the issue and was looking at various angles.

Asked whether a team would be sent to Kandahar for negotiations, he said “all these things are being considered. Until they invite, we cannot respond. It is the responsibility of the sovereign country.”

The message said the hijackers would release some of the names of the prisoners they wanted to be freed to the United Nations.

Mr Gupta confirmed that one of the hijackers had been identified as brother of Azhar.

To a question as to how many prisoners were sought to be released, Mr Gupta said he had no information on this.

On the request for Azhar’s release, he said, “We have to examine how to consider this request.”

He reiterated that the aircraft had not been re-fuelled in Kandahar so far.

Meanwhile, hijackers had released one more passenger, a diabetic, for treatment at the Kandahar International Airport Hospital.

When contacted over satellite phone from here, an official told PTI negotiations were continuing between the hijackers and Afghan authorities, while food, water and medicines were being supplied on a regular basis.

Refuelling of the plane had not been carried out so far and the hijackers had not expressed any intention to take the seized aircraft to Kabul, he said in reply to questions.

The official said the aircraft would remain in Kandahar for the night and the hijackers had no permission to travel anywhere else in the country.

He said the hijackers were given permission to take the aircraft to Zurich, but they had refused to take off from Afghanistan.

“The Afghan authorities will never allow the hijacked aircraft to go anywhere within the country,” he said.

The official said all the passengers were safe and were given all support like food, medicines and blankets. It was not very cold in Kandahar, he added.

The official said the hijackers have demanded release of some of the militants held in the “Kashmir war” and once it was conceded they would be allowed to travel back to Delhi.

He said Kandahar had facilities for landing and take-off in the night.

Asked if anybody would be able to rescue the hostages and if any gun shots had been heard, the official said nobody had been allowed to go near the aircraft and there no gun shot had been heard.

All contacts with the hijackers were being maintained only through telecommunication system, he said.

Kandahar airport, the largest in Afghanistan, acted as a major operational base for the armed forces of the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Afghan war.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee talked tough saying the government would “not bend before such a show of terror”.

The cabinet committee on security met and reviewed the crisis under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister after which External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said further “developments” were expected to take shape tomorrow morning.

Mr Vajpayee issued a statement after the review meeting condemning the hijacking as an “act of terrorism” by desperate men who had no respect for human lives and rights. “It has brought home with full impact the horror of terrorism that the country faces”, he added.

The Prime Minister, however, asserted that the country would have to face the challenge with determination and self-confidence. “My government will not bend before such a show of terror,” he added.

Hizbul Mujahideen, a prominent Kashmiri militant outfit, tonight denounced the hijacking of the Indian Airlines airbus and ruled out the involvement of any Kashmiri militants in it.

“Kashmiri Mujahids (militants) would never risk the lives of the innocent for the sake of a few associates”, chief of Hizbul Mujahideen Abdul Majid Dar said, reacting to the hijackers’ demand for the release of Masood Azhar, leader of Harkat-ul-Ansar and some other Kashmiri militants.

In a statement faxed to PTI, he said the demand was an attempt to implicate the militants in “such false cases and was part of a deep rooted conspiracy”.back


Hijackers allow ailing hostage medical aid
UN team leaves for Kandahar

ISLAMABAD, Dec 26 (PTI) — Hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane, demanding the release of a top militant leader, allowed an ailing passenger to go out of the aircraft, parked at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan since yesterday with 161 hostages on board, for medical aid even as a UN delegation headed for the Taliban headquarters to help resolve the ordeal.

The male patient, after receiving treatment at the airport, returned late last night to the plane which landed at Kandahar yesterday morning after a horrendous odyssey criss-crossing across south Asia and into the middle east.

Meanwhile, AP reported from Kabul that a three-member UN delegation led by UN Afghan coordinator Erick de Mul left for Kandahar from here to try to end the horrific hijack drama which has entered the third day today.

The hijackers issued their first demand yesterday asking India to release Maulana Masood Azhar, an ideologue of the terrorist outfit Harkat-ul-Ansar, and several Kashmiri militants held in Indian jails, Taliban spokesman Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said.

The Taliban have passed on the demands to the UN in New York with a request to negotiate with the hijackers who have threatened to blow up the plane unless negotiations begin.

"We have conveyed their demand to the UN. It is up to the UN to intervene and end this. The Taliban will not mediate," Mutawakil said. back


List of freed passengers

NEW DELHI, Dec 25 (UNI) — Following are the names of the passengers who were released at the Al-Minhad airbase in the UAE today and who were brought to Delhi tonight : B.K. Tandon, R.P. Singh, Pooja Tyagi, Vishal Tyagi, Shakti Vohra, Aditya, Indu Verma, Shroya Verma, Poorvi Verma, Usha Kaul, Karan Kaul, Meena Kumari, Simranjit Singh Kaur, Namrata Gangadhar, Ashi Gangadhar, Kasturi, Bhavna Dubey, Samaksh, Shitij, Seema Jain, Aroosi, Akansha, Akash Baisla, Geeta Baisla, Kriti Baisla, Prashant and Satnam Singh.back

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