Kandahar Hijack Suspect Held

He Is Innocent, Was On Way Home From Nepal For Treatment: Family

Srinagar – In a major development, police Thursday claimed to have arrested a former Kashmiri militant suspected to have provided logistic support in the 1999 IC-814 hijack of Indian Airlines plane which had culminated into the release of three top militants, including Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Muhammad outfit.

“All this requires confirmation if they (police) have arrested him then I applaud them. Let me confirm it and then I shall come back,” union home minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, told reporters today. The arrest comes 13 years after the dare-devil hijack.

Claiming it as a “major catch,” police arrested 48-year old Me’raj-ud-din Dand son of Ghulam Ahmad of Krankshivan, Sopore, in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district, saying he had been active for the past two decades. Believed to be close to Hizbul Mujahideen supremo, Syed Salahuddin, and India’s most wanted fugitive, Dawood Ibrahim, Me’raj-ud-din Dand alias Javed has also been accused of involvement in 1996 blasts at Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi in which 13 people were killed.

Reports said Dand had been living in Nepal for several years past. He had married a Nepali girl and has a 15-year old daughter. His Sopore-based family insisted Dand had dissociated himself from any subversive activity following his release after a 2-year detention in Kot Balwal jail in Jammu and was running a tailors shop in Nepal while his wife owned a grocery.

However, his brother, Abdul Rashid Dand, said he (Me’raj-ud-din) was suffering from brain tumour and was on his way to Sopore for treatment of the dreaded disease when he was arrested by the police near Katra in Jammu on Sunday.

“He contacted us on phone on September 9 saying he was ill and was coming for treatment. We didn’t hear from him ever since and don’t know his whereabouts. The driver of Tavera he had boarded at Jammu on way home told us some unidentified plainclothesmen had intercepted them near Katra, checked his identity card and whisked him away in a waiting Swift car. He was living in Nepal for the past 15 years,” Abdul Rashid said.

Police claimed Dand had allegedly provided fake travel documents to five Pakistani men who had hijacked the IA flight IC-814 on December 24, 1999. The plane had taken off from Nepal that Christmas eve and the moment it had entered the Indian airspace, the gunmen hijacked it to Kandahar in then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan after re-fuelling at Amritsar and Lahore in Pakistan and a stop at Dubai, where they had set free some passengers.

The hijackers had killed a passenger in the 7-day tension-packed stand-off that had culminated into the controversial exchange of three militant leaders for safe release of remaining passengers. Among those freed by India were Maulana Masood Azhar, who founded Jaish-e-Mohammad, Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is accused of killing an American journalist Daniel Pearl. The trio were airlifted by the then external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh, to Kandhar.

Police accused Dand of being an ISI operative in Nepal for the past 15 year. They said he was a fund raiser for militant activities as well. As a Hizbul Mujahideen activist, he is believed to have crossed over to Pakistan in 1987 along with Syed Salahuddin for arms training. On return he carried militant activities in the state. He had also been associated with other militant outfits, including Muslim Mujahideen and Islamic Front.

Arrested by the Central Reserve Police Force in 1991 and jailed for two years, he left Kashmir and stayed in Delhi and Bangalore before settling in Kathmandu (Nepal) in 1996 where he married a local girl. Observer News Service

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