Three persons involved in the hijack of the Indian Airlines aircraft to Kandahar in Afghanistan in December 1999 were on Tuesday convicted and sentenced to life by a Patiala court on charges including murder and conspiracy.
Abdul Latif Adam Momin alias Abdul rehman alias Patel, Yusuf Nepali and Dalip Bhujail were sentenced by sessions judge Inderjit Singh Walia, designated as the anti-hijacking court under provisions of the Indian Penal Code and anti-hijacking law. The Central Bureau of Investigation had demanded the capital punishment for Latif.
The ill-fated IC-814 was hijacked on December 24, 1999, when it was on its way to Delhi from Kathmandu. The three were accused of helping the hijackers by arranging their stay, passport, tickets and with arms and ammunition.
During a week of suspense, five hijackers Ibrahim Athar (brother of Jaish-e-Mohammed Chief Masood Azhar), Sunny Ahmed Qazi, S A Sayed alias Doctor, Z I Mistri alias Bhola and R G Verma alias Shakir -- who commandeered the aircraft to Kandahar, negotiated with Indian officials and successfully got Azhar and two other dreaded terrorists released from jails in India in exchange for releasing the passengers.
The defence counsel contended that the three have been made a scapegoat. While Nepali allegedly handed over passport and tickets to the hijackers, the CBI alleged that Bhujbal had provided them with arms and ammunition.
CBI had charged 10 people, out of which seven, including the five hijackers, are still absconding and are believed to be in Pakistan. An Interpol Red Corner notice has been issued against all seven.
Besides Azhar, the other two released in exchange were Omar Sayeed Sheikh (now in a Pakistan prison for killing Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl) and Mushtaq Zargar, chief of Al-Umar Mujahdeen militant outfit.
The judge awarded the three life imprisonment under Section 302 and for using violence in an aircraft after hijacking under Section 5 of Anti-Hijacking Act. They were also fined Rs 10,000.
The court proceedings were held inside the high security Central Jail.
Mediapersons were not allowed inside the jail, where the three conspirators Abdul Latif, Dalip Kumar and Yusuf Nepali have been lodged, since their arrest about eight years back in connection with the hijacking.
The court dismissed five applications of the defence seeking the recall of 79 witnesses in the case.
The defence also filed an application seeking the findings of the CBI's investigation in Dubai and Bangladesh, in connection with the case, in which the main accused have not yet been arrested.
The defence said that they would file an appeal in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, challenging the order of the Special CBI Court. The hearings had commenced on March 2001 and since then, over 120 witnesses were examined during the eight-year long trial.
The IC-814 Airbus A300 flight, with 189 passengers, including the crew, was hijacked by five men after it took off from the Tribhuvan Nath International Airport in Kathmandu on December 24, 1999 for New Delhi.
Rupen Katyal, 25, who was returning from his honeymoon in Kathmandu, was killed in the hijacking while others were released after a seven-day ordeal at Kandahar.