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January 10, 2000
Hijackers accomplices in Bombay played a key role: cops
Some of the links in the convoluted tale of the hijacking of IA Flight 814 lie in Bombay.
Soon after Union Home Minister L K Advani accused Pakistan of involvement in the hijacking, the Bombay police launched a massive crackdown and arrested six city-based accomplices of the hijackers, including a travel agent.
The crime branch sleuths zeroed in on a travel agency, Seven Travels, at Bombay Central in south Bombay, and arrested its owner Suresh Bhatnathe and two of his employees, Prakash Jadhav and Vishnu Yeram. The trio had arranged fake Indian passports for four Harkat-ul-Ansar militants arrested in Jogeshwari in north Bombay on December 30.
The four militants helped identity the five hijackers, it is learnt. The activists of four Harkar-ul-Ansar terrorist group, based in Rawalpindi in Pakistan, were Mohammad Rehan and Mohammad Iqbal, both Pakistani nationals, Yusuf Nepali of Nepal, and Abdul Latif, an Indian, Advani had said.
The breakthrough came when America's Central Intelligence Agency intercepted a message from the hijackers in Kandahar to one Abdul Latif in Bombay, asserting that if their demands were not met they would blow up the plane.
It was the arrest of the quartet from Jogeshwari along with a large cache of arms and ammunitions, including AK-56 guns, rocket launchers and RDX, that put the police on the trail of the hijackers' network in the city.
And now the police suspect that the passports of three of the five hijackers were issued from the regional passport office in Bombay. The possibility came to light following the arrest of the travel agent at Bombay Central on Friday and the recovery of large stocks of incriminating documents.
However, a key suspect, Imran, alias Pyarijan, is absconding and a term of police officers has been dispatched to his native village in Tamil Nadu to nab him. According to a senior police officer, the three accused have told investigators that they were instrumental in helping the seven Harkat-ul-Ansar men, arrested by the Bombay police at Oshiwara in north Bombay on December 29, obtain Indian passports from Bombay using forged documents.
The seven -- Sayyed Zahidi alias Raju Patel, Mohammed Zahidi, Mannan Hussein, Sayed Ahmed Desai, Mohammed Jaffer Soda, Haji Mohammed Iqbal alias Mohammed Rafiq and Yusuf Nepali alias Gopal Mann -- called were in telephonic contact with Pakistan during the hijacking that began on December 24.
During Friday's raids, police had also seized from the Belasis Street Post Office near Bombay Central 10 passports, 21 bogus ration cards, 51 blank passport forms, 50 blank school leaving certificate forms, a fake marriage certificate and other incriminating documents. The police also seized a register from the travel agent that indicated that passport officials had helped them secure many passports.
It is still unclear whether the travel agents were aware of the hijacking plot. In a related development, the Crime Branch has learnt that the seven Harkar-ul-Ansar militants, who had also robbed the Maharashtra State Co-operative Bank at Borivli in November last year, had snatched the staff's identity cards. These were later used to acquire seven SIM cards, which were used to make International Subscriber Dialing calls to Pakistan during the week-long hijacking.
While the police have recovered Rs 200,000 of the Rs 73.5 million robbed from the bank, the rest of the money is believed to have been spent on building up a base in Bombay. In another important development, the Thane police today arrested three persons who provided an ISD link to accomplices of the hijackers to make calls to Pakistan. Police named the trio as Rafique Shaikh (23), Javed Shaikh (27) and Muzaffar Shaikh (24).
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