Thursday, February 10, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

4 plane crew members escape

LONDON, Feb 9 (Agencies) — In a daring act, four crew members of the hijacked Afghan aircraft, including its captain, escaped and a flight attendant was pushed out late last night causing some tense moments on board as the ordeal for the nearly 150 hostages continued for the fourth day today with no breakthrough in negotiations.

In a dramatic escape, the captain, his deputy, first officer and flight engineer climbed down a rope ladder through an emergency exit from the cockpit of Ariana Airlines Boeing 727 parked at the Stansted airport near here shortly before 11 pm (2.30 a.m. IST).

The fifth, a flight attendant, was apparently pushed out from the rear exit nearly four hours later.

Tension prevailed in the jet airliner for some time after the hijackers discovered the escape and stopped negotiations for about an hour, assistant chief constable Joe Edwards said.

“We made contact again shortly after 6 a.m. (1130 a.m. IST) because we needed to resupply fuel to the generator. And that was OK. The tone of the negotiations settled down after that,” he said.

After climbing down from the ladder, the four men ran towards a hangar where they were taken for a medical check up and questioning.

The steward, who was pushed out of the plane was given medical attention for a graze on his forehead and was being de-briefed by police at the airport, the constable said.

“The mood on board is still calm, the negotiations continue, and that is a good sign,” he said.

He admitted that the “spontaneous escape” has “obviously changed the dynamics of the negotiations”. All five crew members were of Afghan nationality, he said.

A report in a Pakistani Urdu daily Ausaf said in Islamabad that the ruling Taliban militia in Afghanistan had arrested three alleged accomplices of the hijackers, including a former woman diplomat.

The arrested woman has been identified as Zohra, who had arrived in Kabul about 10 days back, the paper said.

The motive of the hijacking remains unclear. So far the hijackers have only demanded food, water and medicines.

An official from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had unexpectedly arrived to beef up efforts to end the hijack, which began shortly after the plane took off with 186 persons aboard from Kabul on a domestic flight on Sunday.

The hijackers freed about 20 persons at two stopovers in Central Asia and in Moscow. Since arriving at Stansted on the outskirts of London early on Monday, nine other passengers had been freed before the escape.

The appearance of the UN official put the spotlight on how Afghanistan’s diplomatic isolation has hindered efforts to free the hostages on the Boeing 727.

Afghan Radio has quoted Foreign Minister Maulawi Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil as saying the hijackers’ only demand seemed to be the release of opposition leader Ismail Khan.

Known as the “Lion of Herat”, Khan was held by the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement after it swept to power in Kabul in 1996 on its way to controlling most of war-ravaged Afghanistan.



Afghan women detained

KABUL, Feb 9 (Reuters) — The Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban movement has detained several people, including women airport workers, for questioning over the weekend hijack of one of its Ariana Airliners to London, officials said today.

The Taliban suspected women passengers may have been involved in smuggling weapons on board because they are subject to less stringent security at the Kabul airport where such checks are largely carried out by men, the officials said.

The arrests follow widespread speculation in the Afghan capital that the hijackers’ motive for commandeering the aircraft across Europe may have been to seek asylum in Britain or elsewhere.

Taliban officials declined to comment.

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