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January 10, 2000
Passengers clarify about hijackers' identity
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
The passengers of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 which was hijacked on its way from Kathmandu to New Delhi by five masked hijackers and subsequently taken to Kandahar have denied the reports appearing in a section of the press that the five hijackers were identified by them.
Last week the Union Home Minister L K Advani had in a crowded press conference claimed that the five hijackers were Pakistanis and they had been identified by the passengers who had been held hostage by the hijackers for almost eight days.
"How can I say if what the government is saying is correct or not. I am sure they must have done their homework before releasing the pictures of the five hijackers to the media," one of the passengers said. When asked if the passengers were shown the pictures or not, he said surely no one had shown them to him.
A relative of a released hostage said that the latter was not shown any picture of the hijackers and even if he had been it would be difficult to identify anyone because the hijackers wore monkey caps throughout the eight-day long drama.
Captain Devi Saran was not available for comment on the subject. But a source close to him said that a clarification in this regard had already been issued in some sections of the media in which it was categorically stated that the passengers and crew of Flight 814 were not shown the pictures of the hijackers. Soon after the hijack crisis officials of the intelligence agencies did contact members of the crew but they were not armed with any pictures. "If they have done so now, then I am not aware of it," said the source.
But the intelligence officials continue to maintain that some of the passengers and crew members were contacted by them and shown the pictures and the latter had confirmed the hijackers' identity on the basis of these snap shots.
"We have done our work diligently and there is no scope for mistake about the identity of the hijackers who were all Pakistani nationals. One of them was the brother of the released militant Maulana Masood Azhar. This has also been confirmed by four persons who were picked up by the intelligence officials in Bombay on December 30, 1999. The interrogation reports and the subsequent recovery of pictures from the arrested persons confirms our doubts that the whole hijacking was masterminded by Pakistan. The investigation is proceeding on the right track and we would in due course get enough evidence to nail Pakistan," said an official of the Intelligence Bureau who has been associated with the investigation of the hijack case from day one.
Benazir Bhutto's statement is also being mentioned in intelligence circles to prove Pakistan's complicity. The former Pakistani prime minister had hailed the hijacking as one of the most successful ones in recent times as it had brought the Kashmir issue back on the international agenda.
"The statement clearly shows the involvement of Pakistan in the hijacking," argued J P Mathur, a senior leader of the BJP. According to him the statement showed how happy the Pakistanis were when the Indian plane was hijacked. "It is the national agenda in Pakistan to lap up anything which has some overtones of Kashmir," he said.
Meanwhile, units of the special investigation team of the Central Bureau of Investigation which is now looking into the hijack case have left for Amritsar, Kathmandu and Bombay. In fact the team detailed for Bombay has already taken charge of the five men arrested in that city from the crime branch of Bombay police.
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