India checking chile claim of nabbing key IC-814 hijack.....


Staff member
New Delhi April 12:

Indian agencies on Monday scrambled to check the veracity of information from Chile that the police there had detained one of the key conspirators behind the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in 1999.

Chilean police detained one Abdul Rauf. The detention took place on the basis of an Interpol Red Corner issued for Abdul Rauf, one of the masterminds of the plot that led to the swap of three notorious Pakistan-backed terrorists for the passengers aboard the hijacked aircraft. Chilean authorities have sent across photographs and fingerprints of the detained person. The CBI will send a team to Chile if the indications firm up.

For Indian agencies, Rauf has been crucial as they suspect him to have acted as the conduit between ISI leaders and the hijackers during the 6-day crisis that saw the Vajpayee government succumbing to the clamour for safe release of passengers at the cost of its initial stand not to negotiate with the hijackers.

The key role that Rauf, brother-in–law of Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the terrorists who had to be freed as part of the bargain, played in the hijacking has been attested to by Abdul Latif, one of the accused who is in Indian custody. Latif said that Rauf, along with Yusuf Azhar, brother of Maulana Masood, planned the hijack, travelling along with fellow-conspirators to Nepal where the hijackers boarded the ill-fated Indian Airlines plane.

However, sources were keeping fingers crossed whether the person detained by Chilean police was a genuine catch. "We have our doubts because we are not sure whether someone who is on an international wanted list and is so crucial for the real plotters will take the risk of travelling to a distant country under his own identity. Why will anyone take such a risk when he can easily acquire a fake identity with the help of official agencies in Pakistan," a senior investigator said.

CBI can be helped by the fact that it has copies of driving licences and passports of the hijackers and other plotters, including Rauf. More importantly, Maulana Masood fell out of favour with the ISI after the failed his Jaish-e-Mohammad unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate former Pakistani ruler Pervez Musharraf. The ISI has since promoted LeT as its main jihadi proxy against India. In case Rauf turns out to be the person India is so keen on laying its hands on, the role of the US will become crucial.

While Washington has close ties with Chile, it also has to take into account the sensibilities of Pakistan which is crucial to its war in Afghanistan. Earlier, the CBI had to face disappointment after Kenyan police claimed that they had Abdul Karim Tunda, a notorious jihadi terrorist who conducted a bombing campaign in the Capital, in their custody. The detained person turned out to be British national Ismoila Olatunde.

The hijacking of IC-814 was a serious setback to India as it had to release, besides Masood, Omar Sheikh, who later went on to kidnap American journalist Daniel Pearl leading to the latter's killing. Masood, a jihadi ideologue who was a key figure of the anti-India terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Islam, used his celebrity as someone whom India could not detain to launch his own Jaish-e-Mohmmad. Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar, the third terrorist to be released, continues to operate from Pakistan.

Politically, it blotted Vajpayee government's "tough-on-terror" claim, enabling BJP's political opponents to taunt it for its "surrender" to terror. The anti-hijacking policy framed by the NDA government which was adopted by UPA rules out negotiations with hijackers.