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November 17, 2000
CBI to intensify hijacking probe
Sunil Jha in New Delhi
After collecting 'vital' inputs from Dubai, the Central Bureau of Investigation has decided to despatch special teams to various countries as part of its efforts to intensify the probe into the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814, agency sources said on Friday.
The aircraft was on its way to New Delhi from Kathmandu at the tail end of 1999 when five hijackers took control of the aircraft, with its 190 passengers and crew. They were held captive for eight days before the hijack drama ended on New Year's eve at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan.
Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and certain other Gulf countries have been identified as initial destinations for the inquiry teams.
Sleuths are also likely to visit the United States of America, which is carrying out its own probe on the basis of the deposition made by its national Jean Moore who was on board the hijacked aircraft.
Senior agency officials said, "The move to send the investigators to these countries was afoot in view of the decision to intensify inquiry into the case, pending for almost a year."
The key concern is to track down the five hijackers in case they move out of Pakistan where they are believed to be hiding. Interpol is on the lookout for them and it has alerted Pakistan to establish the whereabouts of the culprits.
The international police organisation has issued a 'red corner' alert in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UAE, Nepal and Britain against the five hijackers - Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Zahoor Ibrahim, Shahid Akhter Sayed and Shakir - and two accomplices Yusuf Azhar and Abdul Rauf.
Rauf and Azhar, the key conspirators behind the hijacking, are believed to be the brother and brother-in-law respectively of Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the three militants released by the Indian government in exchange for the passengers.
Athar is believed to be a resident of Bahawalpur while the other hijackers belong to the port city of Karachi, information available with the CBI indicate.
A visit to Bangladesh figures high on the priority list in view of revelations that the actual conspiracy to hijack the aircraft was hatched in a house in the Sabzi Mandi area of Dhaka in August 1999 by about seven to eight people.
The sources said the interrogation of Abdul Latif alias Patel, one of the four persons arrested in the case, revealed that it was at this meeting that the hijackers decided which flight to target and from where the hijacking should be carried out.
Kathmandu was identified as a soft target considering the inadequate security arrangements at the airport.
Latif was picked up from Bombay on December 30. Bhupalmar Damai alias Nepali, Dalip Kumar and Balal, a suspected Bangladeshi, are the others who were arrested. All of them are in judicial custody
Second on the list is Nepal as the hijackers boarded the flight from this country. It was in Nepal that the hijackers decided who would share what responsibilities, a few days before the hijacking.
The security arrangements at the international airport, which failed to prevent the hijackers from sneaking in arms into the aircraft, would also be investigated. India has already informed Nepal about the proposed investigation.
Though a two-member team led by Joint Director R N Sawani visited Dubai only last week to gather some information from various government and aviation officials apart from witnesses, another visit to the premier business city in the Gulf was not ruled out.
The Britain visit was necessitated after one of the terrorists released by the Indian government in exchange for the passengers surfaced there. CBI also got indications that the hijackers might have visited Britain in the pre-hijacking period, the officials said.
The problem areas, however, are Pakistan and Afghanistan, which do not appear keen on welcoming the investigators. Nevertheless, the agency was making efforts to enable its sleuths to probe the case in these two countries.
Another view is that even if CBI sleuths visit these two countries, the administration was unlikely to adopt a 'positive' attitude towards the exercise, rendering the whole effort worthless.
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