Friday, February 11, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Hijack drama ends; 21 held
60 passengers seek asylum

LONDON, Feb 10 (PTI) — The five-day hijack drama at Stansted airport abruptly ended this morning with all 150 persons on board the Afghan airliner walking off as the police arrested 19 suspected hijackers and seized some arms and ammunition. A police spokesman said that two more persons were arrested later, bringing the total to 21.

Those arrested were people taken off the Ariana airliner at the airport, north of London, and “they are suspected of having committed criminal offences”, Essex police chief constable David Stevens told reporters.

He said the police recovered four hand guns, five knives, one set of brass knuckles, two detonators and two grenades which did not appear to have fuses.

“It is difficult to be absolutely certain of how many people were involved in the hijacking,” he said and did not rule out the possibility of more arrests.

Stevens made it clear that no guarantee was given to the hijackers. “There were no political demands made. They made no request for guarantee on asylum and no guarantees were given,” he said.

However, he said 60 freed passengers had sought asylum in the United Kingdom.

“We are now into a very complex and involved criminal investigation, building a detailed picture of what is required,” Essex county assistant chief constable John Broughton said.

Officials carried out a check of the aircraft to confirm no one was left on board and that it was safe for investigators to enter.

Reuters: In Kabul Afghan officials on Thursday voiced relief at the bloodless end to the London hijack and many ordinary citizens said they would have swapped places with the hostages to escape the Taliban rule.

Mullah Hamidullah, president of the state carrier Ariana, said “we appeal to the Government of Britain to return our crew and the plane to us as soon as possible. We need the plane for emergency cases and to take pilgrims on the Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca),’’ he said.

“The hostages are lucky now because they are in Britain, though they underwent some ordeal, but it is not comparable to the agonies that they experienced over the past 22 years in Afghanistan. Wish them good luck,’’ said one Kabul resident.

Another, who also asked for anonymity, said: “We ask the Government of Great Britain to allow those desperate Afghans to stay there as refugees if some want to do so.

The ageing airliner was hijacked 15 minutes after taking off from Kabul on Sunday morning on a domestic flight to Mazar-e-Sharif.

In the first sign that the end was near, two hijackers left the plane for face-to-face negotiations with British officials early today.

The plane’s rear steps were suddenly lowered just after 8.30 am IST and 85 persons, including all 20 women and 20 children on board, streamed off. That left about 65 persons on the plane.

Police marksmen trained their weapons on the plane as the women, wearing shawls against the cold and some carrying young babies, calmly walked down the steps.

There were also men among the group who all walked off with their arms raised.

About three hours later, the steps again came down and the final exodus started. They were all men.

The pilots escaped through the plane’s cockpit window 24 hours earlier leaving no one to fly the aircraft.

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.


UK talks tough

LONDON, Feb 10 (PTI, DPA) — As speculation mounted that the whole hijack drama could have been for securing asylum, Home Secretary Jack Straw told Parliament that Britain wanted all the released passengers to leave the country “as soon as reasonably practicable”.

Mr Straw made it clear that he would process every application for asylum adding “I am determined that nobody should consider that there can be any benefit to be obtained by hijacking.”

AFP adds: Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said the Taliban would not be asking for the extradition of the hijackers and wanted Britain to handle the case.

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