December 27, 1999
An Indian Airlines aircraft on a routine flight from Kathmandu (Nepal) to New Delhi on Friday December 24, was hijacked and, after a traumatic journey that took it to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, is currently in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan since the early hours of Saturday December 25, where over 160 passengers and crew members continue to remain hostage in rapidly deteriorating conditions. A team of officials from India is presently negotiating with the hijackers in Kandahar in order to secure the safe and speedy release of all the hostages.
The hijackers have demanded the release from jail in India of Mohammad Masood Azhar, whom sections of the international media have euphemistically described as an Islamic cleric from Pakistan, but who is in fact the General Secretary and ideologue of the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), an organization based in Pakistan which was in October 1997 designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the United States Department of State. The HUM was re-designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the State Department in its latest list released on October 8, 1999. Azhar is an “Islamic cleric” only in the sense that Sheikh Omar Abdel Rehman of the World Trade Center bombing notoriety was also said to be one.
In its ‘Background Information on Foreign Terrorist Organisations’ released on October 8 1999, the Office of Counterterrorism of the US Department of State has described the Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), a.k.a. Harakat-ul-Ansar, HUA, Al Hadid, Al Hadith, Al Faran as an “Islamic militant group based in Pakistan” … whose “leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil has been linked to Bin Laden and signed his fatwa in February 1998, calling for attacks on US and Western interests”. Khalil, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Harakat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami International (HUJI), broke away from the parent organization in 1985 to form a separate group Harakat-ul-Mujahideen. There were subsequent attempts to re-unite the two breakaway factions, and the merged group came to be known as the Harakat-ul-Ansar. It changed its name to Harakat-ul-Mujahideen in 1997 after it was designated a terrorist organization by the United States. Masood Azhar, the General Secretary of the organisation, who hails from Bahawalpur in Pakistan, entered the state of Jammu & Kashmir in India in January 1994 on a false Portuguese passport and was arrested by the Indian police the following month because of his involvement in terrorist activities.
There have been several earlier attempts by the HUM to secure the release of Masood Azhar by resorting to abduction as a bargaining tool. Two British nationals were kidnapped on June 6, 1994 at Pahalgam in Jammu & Kashmir. Another group of three Britishers and one American was abducted in Delhi in September the same year. Six foreign tourists, including two American nationals, were kidnapped again at Pahalgam in July 1995. One of the hostages, John Childs (a citizen of the USA) escaped, another (a Norwegian national) was beheaded by the Harakat, and four others, including an American national, are still missing. The recent hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft is the most brazen terrorist attempt yet by the HUM to secure the release of its General Secretary Masood Azhar.
The Government of India most vehemently condemns this and all acts of terrorism. The United States Government today has also condemned in the strongest terms the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft and the holding of 160 passengers as hostages. India’s External Affairs Minister Mr. Jaswant Singh has called attention to the need for the international community to rally as one to address the problem.