September 18, 2006 2:34:28 am
Al Qaeda operatives were behind the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane in 1999 which culminated in the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, who later founded Jaish-e-Mohammed, and two other militants, a former bodyguard of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden has claimed.
In a documentary aired on Al Jazeera TV yesterday, the world’s most-wanted man’s bodyguard recalled that bin Laden welcomed Azhar, released from an Indian jail after the hijacking of the plane, and threw a lavish party in his honour, Pakistan’s Online news agency reported.
(The Indian Express reported last month how Indian authorities were taking a hard look at Azhar’s interrogation report after British and US investigators, probing the UK airline plot, discovered that key suspect Rashid Rauf was related to Azhar.)
Abu Jandal said on the day the Indian Airlines plane IC-814 was hijacked, he was told to ready his Stinger missiles and an emergency was declared at Kandahar airport. “Sheikh told me to get my missiles ready. We had Stinger missiles. Within half an hour, we declared an emergency in the area. The plane was flying over the airport building and then it landed. When I saw the word Indian written on it, I realised what was happening. When the plane landed, Taliban forces were moving towards the area.”
“I was told that other planes will follow this one and there is a danger of the situation getting worse. They told me 4-5 persons have been released from India. We saw a grand welcome party and heard the noise of firing. After 2-3 days, bin Laden invited Maulana Azhar and Taliban authorities at Kandahar to a lavish party at the airport. He introduced Azhar to us and we sat together. I was astonished to discover that Azhar and bin Laden already knew each other”.
Besides Masood Azhar, two other militants, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Sheikh, were released in exchange for the IC-814 passengers.
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