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November 14, 2000
CBI gets cracking in hijack case
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Investigations into the match-fixing case had taken precedence over investigations into the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 from Kathmandu to Delhi on December 24 last year.
Now that the match-fixing probe is over for all practical purposes, investigations in this case have begun.
CBI joint director R N Sawani and superintendent of police M K Narayanan returned to New Delhi after a four-day visit to Dubai, where they spoke to some key witnesses in the hijack drama. The hijacked plane had landed in Dubai for refuelling, before taking off for Khandahar.
According to CBI sources, the two talked to senior embassy officials present at the airport while the plane was refuelled. They also spoke to some officials of Dubai airport and the Dubai police who communicated with the hijackers. " This was necessary to meet legal requirements," said a top official of the agency.
The agency, besides talking to 11 crew members, examined 156 passengers and recorded their statements. The investigators also spoke to ticketing agents from where the five hijackers bought tickets. All have identified the hijackers.
While 95 passengers identified the hijacker, nick-named 'chief Ibrahim Attar', who boarded the plane under the name of A A Shiekh, 91 identified Bhola (Z A Mistri), 102 pinpointed Berger (S A Qazi), 120 Doctor (S A Sayeed) and 92 Shankar alias Shakir.
The investigating officials, while confirming that Amritsar airport received two calls from a mysterious Lal, admitted that they were unable to identify the caller or trace the call as the airport did not have the required equipment.
"The teams will be unable to carry out investigations in Lahore (Pakistan) and Khandahar (Afghanistan) because of the state of their ties with India. But this will not make a major difference to investigations. We know that even if we land up in Pakistan, we will not get anything," said an official of the agency.
The investigating officers confirmed that some reports from Varansi had sent shivers among the intelligence agencies as they spoke of the hijackers being armed with sophisticated weapons.
''But investigations revealed that initially the hijackers did not have sophisticated weapons. They had handheld guns that included pistols and revolvers. However, after the plane landed in Lahore there was a definite change in weapons. It seems that many things, including communications equipment, were passed on to them as well.''
"We have positive information that the conspiracy was hatched at a house in Sabzi Mandi in Dhaka in August 1999, where seven to eight people were present. Interrogation of Latif, picked up from Bombay on December 30, revealed that it was at that meeting that the hijackers decided which flight to hijack. They all reached Kathmandu weeks before the hijack. They met again in Kathmandu, where they decided through lots who would carry the weapon,'' said an officer connected with investigations.
The trial in the case will begin shortly in Patiala.
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