The Hijack of Flight IC 814

Updated on May 22, 2018
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Ashutosh believes in alternate views and is skeptical of the mainstream narratives, especially around stories that shocked the world.

Taliban militants walking past the hijacked IC 814 flight at Kandahar Airport, Afghanistan (December 27, 1999)
Taliban militants walking past the hijacked IC 814 flight at Kandahar Airport, Afghanistan (December 27, 1999)

The Hijack

It all unfolded on that fateful Christmas Eve of 1999 when Air India flight designated IC 814 (Airbus A300) on route to Delhi was hijacked some 40 minutes post take off from Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal. Five terrorists belonging to terror outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, armed with grenades, knives, and pistols burst into the cockpit and ordered the plane to be diverted to Pakistan. These hijackers were later identified as:

1. Ibrahim Athar, a resident of Bahawalpur, Pakistan
2. Shahid Akhtar Sayed, alias Doctor, a resident of Gulshan Iqbal, Karachi, Pakistan
3. Sunny Ahmed Qazi, alias Burger, a resident of Defence Area, Karachi, Pakistan
4. Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim, aka Zia, a resident of Akhtar Colony, Karachi, Pakistan
5. Shakir, from Sukkur City, Pakistan

The flight had 178 passengers (including 24 foreign nationals) and 11 crew members onboard whose worst nightmare had just begun. They didn't have the slightest of the clue, on what horrors the next 173 hours were about to unleash.

Hijackers of IC 814 - Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Qazi, Shahid Sayed, Mistri Zahoor & Shakir (Left to Right)
Hijackers of IC 814 - Ibrahim Athar, Sunny Qazi, Shahid Sayed, Mistri Zahoor & Shakir (Left to Right)

Sequence of Events

As the news of hijack broke out the entire nation was gripped in horror and the government almost shell-shocked. A Crisis Management Group (CMG) meet was immediately called in to monitor the events and seek a further course of action. The CMG headed by the Cabinet Secretary included the top bureaucrats in the Prime Minister's office including the external intelligence agency, RAW Chief. However, the brainstorming that took place didn't yield any substantial end result. Meanwhile hovering over Pakistani airspace (post being denied entry and running short on fuel) the pilot of IC 814 somehow managed to persuade the terrorists to land the flight at the Amritsar Airport in India, that was in close vicinity. The pilot had hoped, it would give the Government of India and the concerned authorities an opportunity to end the crisis. Little did he know that the ordeal was still far from over. The plane did land at Raja Sansi Airport in Amritsar, Punjab. The local forces at Amritsar, who were capable of handling such a terrorist situation were ordered to stand down and wait for the elite National Security Guard (NSG) to take over. The government assumed it was much of a risk and they couldn't afford any hasty decisions. The plane remained at Amritsar airport for about 45 minutes, however, the seemingly obvious deliberate delay in refueling made the hijackers suspicious. The airport authorities panicked, despite being repeatedly instructed. A rather lazy and haywire attempt by them to block the runway with a speeding fuel bowser reaffirmed the terrorist' doubt, making them order the captain to take off. When the captain didn't comply, the terrorist threatened to kill the passengers. In order to create panic, they stabbed one of the passenger, Rupin Katyal (25), first in the abdomen than in the chest a number of times. At this stage, the helpless Captain was forced to take off without refueling.

By the time the NSG arrived on the scene, it was already too late. The hijacked flight had already taken off from the Indian soil.

Timeline of IC 814 Hijack
Timeline of IC 814 Hijack
The flight course of IC 814 post the hijack
The flight course of IC 814 post the hijack

Touch Down at Kandahar

When news reached New Delhi about terrorists re-attempting to land the plane at Lahore, then Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh sprung in action and pleaded his counterpart in Islamabad (Pakistan) for assistance. The request, however, met deaf ears and for obvious reasons. Just a few months back the arch-rivals India-Pakistan had fought a major war (Kargil War) and the relationship was at an all-time low. Pakistan reiterated their previous stand of not allowing the plane to land. In fact, to prevent the landing, Lahore air control even switched off the runway lights. But for the pilot of IC 814, it was a desperate situation with the fuel almost exhausted, they could either land or crash. It was only after he flew in dangerously close, that the airport authorities realized the urgency and allowed the plane to land. Pakistan Government allowed the refueling but denied any further assistance, not even attending to the severely injured on humanitarian grounds. So once again flight IC 814 was airborne, embarking on an odyssey across the Asian Subcontinent and the Middle East.

Al Minhat Air Base (military installation) in UAE was the next stop-over. Similar to Pakistan, UAE was another Islamic state with which India didn't enjoy warm diplomatic relations. Though UAE Government allowed the flight to land but strongly rejected India's request of allowing a commando rescue mission to be carried out. They too wanted the plane out of their airspace asap. India had expected US to put pressure on UAE to comply however India only found itself isolated internationally. Some negotiations though did take place and in exchange for fuel and food, the hijackers released 24 hostages, mostly women and children. The body of the deceased passenger was also handed over. That young man's death was perhaps one of the most tragic events in this entire ordeal. It had robbed his parents of their only son and a bride of her husband, just 20 days post the wedding. Their extended honeymoon trip had landed them on that ill-fated flight.

Early next morning post the hijack, IC 814 had a final touchdown at Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan, which was then a hostile territory under the control of Taliban militia. Guarded by heavily armed Taliban militia the plane remained parked on the tarmac for next seven days. The fiasco ultimately ended on the eve of the millennium (Dec 31st, 1999), post conclusion of the negotiations between the Government of India and the hijackers. All the freed hostages were flown back to India on a special plane. The hijackers soon disappeared under Taliban's protection and were believed to have crossed into Pakistan.

Taliban militia rushing towards the hijacked airliner
Taliban militia rushing towards the hijacked airliner
Taliban militants armed with surface to air stinger missiles, guarding the hijacked IC 814
Taliban militants armed with surface to air stinger missiles, guarding the hijacked IC 814

"It's a very cowardly act. Whatever they want, this is not the way to go about it. India will not bow to such barbaric acts and won't be afraid"

— Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Former Indian Prime Minister)
Taliban militants praying in front of the hijacked IC 814
Taliban militants praying in front of the hijacked IC 814

The Negotiations

Dec 27, 1999, three days post the hijack, a plane with essential commodities, doctors, relief crew and a negotiating team left for Kandahar. The negotiating team was spearheaded by representatives from both IB (Intelligence Bureau) and external intelligence agency, RAW (Research & Analysis Wing). Besides them, there was also participation from the Ministry of External Affairs and Bureau of Civil Aviation Security. The negotiations with hijackers opened up at the behest of the Taliban Government and following demands were immediately put forth:

  1. The release of three terrorists held in Indian prisons viz Maulana Masood Azhar (Pakistani), Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar (Indian) and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (British national of Pakistani origin) in addition to the release of 35 other jailed terrorists.
  2. US$200 million for securing the release of hostages.
  3. The hijackers had also demanded that the former Harkat-ul-Ansar chief in Jammu & Kashmir, Sajjad Afghani be exhumed and his coffin be handed over to them.

However, post several discussions and interference by the Taliban Government headed by Mullah Omar, some of the demands were dropped. Ultimately, in exchange for the hostages, the release of the three terrorists as demanded was secured. It's a no-brainer that Indian Government paid a hefty price in the form of release of three dreaded terrorists who were further destined to wage a war against the country and pursue their extremist agenda.

Who were these three men, that terrorists desperately wanted out?

  1. Maulana Masood Azhar, a notorious Pakistani militant responsible for operating Islamic militant outfits in Kashmir. He was arrested in 1994 when he had come to India to settle some disputes between different factions of the jihadist outfit, the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA). The HuA was formed in 1993 by the merger between two prominent Pakistani militant outfits, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). As a HuM operative, Masood Azar was a high-value asset. Several attempts were made to secure his release including the hostage situations involving foreign nationals and even prison break. His proxies even floated a front group, Al-Faran, which in 1995 abducted five foreign trekkers in South Kashmir and held them hostage, demanding the release of Masood Azhar but the request was rejected by the authorities. He remained in captivity in Kot Bhalwal prison on the outskirts of Jammu before his release was finally secured.
  2. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, aka Omar Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin and former London School of Economics student, who was affiliated to various terror outfits including Al-Qaeda, Taliban and later Jaish-e-Muhammad. Pakistan's former President and Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf in his book 'In the Line of Fire: A Memoir', alleged that Omar Sheikh was recruited by the British MI6 while he was at LSE. He was arrested in 1994 for the kidnapping of four foreign tourists (an American and three Britons) from a village in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India and had since been incarcerated in the high-security Tihar prison in New Delhi.
  3. Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, born in Kashmir he was the front man of the terror outfit Al-Umar Mujahideen and has been involved in terrorist activities and separatist movements in the Kashmir valley since mid-80's. In August 1989, Zargar carried out the kidnapping of Rubaiya Sayeed, the daughter of then Home Minister of India Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and secured release of five of his comrades in exchange for Rubaiya Sayeed’s release. He was on the wanted list for at least three dozen murder cases in Srinagar, Kashmir, including some high-ranking Indian officers. He is also believed to have been involved in killings of Kashmiri Pandits during the Kashmiri Pandit exodus in 1989-90 in the Kashmir valley. Zargar was arrested on May 15, 1992, and incarcerated in Srinagar.

Jaswant Singh(C), former Indian Foreign Minister at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
Jaswant Singh(C), former Indian Foreign Minister at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan
Terrorists released by Government of India, Maulana Masood Azhar(L), Mushtaq Zargar(C),Omar Sheikh(R)
Terrorists released by Government of India, Maulana Masood Azhar(L), Mushtaq Zargar(C),Omar Sheikh(R)

Investigations & Trials

Reeling under severe criticism for having failed to prevent the hijack, the investigating agencies did pull one back by quickly unearthing the whole conspiracy and nabbing the accomplices of the hijackers in no time.

The breakthrough came even before the week-long hijack concluded. On December 24, the day the hijack took place, the investigative agencies intercepted a telephonic conversation between the Abdul Rauf and Abdul Latif, asking the later to call up the BBC offices in London and give details of the hijacking. Abdul Latif Adam Momin, a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operative based in Mumbai was already on the agencies watch list. The one giving directions from Karachi was Abdul Rauf, Maulana Masood Azhar's brother-in-law and the key conspirator and financier of this hijack operation. Through hawala routes, he had supposedly transferred INR 78,000 twice for the operation. What's interesting to note is, Ibrahim Athar (one of the five hijackers) was also Masood Azhar's brother.

What followed was a trail for Latif at his suspected hideouts and finally, he was nabbed on December 30th, 1999, with a cache of weapons including a grenade launcher and AK47. During interrogation, he agreed to have helped the hijackers secure fake passports in which he was aided by Bhupal Man Damai alias Yusuf Nepali. Latif revealed that it was in July 1999 that the hijack plot took concrete shape post several secret meetings among the conspirators in Dhaka and Mumbai. In August, Ibrahim Attar (or chief) informed Abdul Latif about the plan and the forged passports and travel documents for the five hijackers were arranged. Dilip Bhujel was then tasked with securing the arms and ammunition post which they shifted their base to Kathmandu, Nepal and finalised the modus operandi.

In several rounds of raids that followed Latif's arrest, 22 more arrests were made, post which the trials began. 28 witnesses were examined in the trial out of which 8 turned hostile during the course of the investigation. Fast forward to October 2012, of the 22 accused, 19 were finally acquitted by the court while two died during the trials and one was discharged from the case. Previously, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) during its findings had named 10 accused of conspiring and executing the hijacking including seven Pakistanis. Abdul Rauf being the key conspirator, two Indians - Abdul Latif Adam Momin and Dilip Kumar Bhujel and a Nepalese, Yusuf Nepali. In February 2008, the three primary accused; Latif, Bhujel and Nepali were sentenced to life terms by the Patiala Court. In February 2014, the High Court upheld the life imprisonment awarded to Latif but turned down CBI's request for capital punishment. A few months later in April, Yusuf Nepali (54) was released from Patiala Central Jail after the courts exonerated him. Supreme Court in April 2017, admitted for hearing an appeal filed by Abdul Latif Adam Momin, against the life imprisonment awarded to him in the case.

It wasn't all a hunky dory investigation though and there had been misses too. In April 2011, India was to send a two-member team to Chile to probe claims of detention of a person wanted in the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft in 1999 to Kandahar. The man detained on the charge of possessing fake travel document was claimed to be none other than Abdul Rauf, the mastermind. India neither had an extradition treaty with Chile nor possessed substantial identification data including biometrics. As expected, the news soon died down. Similarly, in September 2012, the Kashmir Police had claimed a big breakthrough in the IC 814 investigation post they arrested a militant Mehrajuddin Dand, a supposed close associate of United Jihad Council (UJC) chief Syed Salahuddin. He was suspected to have provided logistical support to hijackers of IC- 814. Despite all the tall claims, it was eventually rubbished as a media blown story.

Another curious case was that of 26-year-old Mohammad Afroz, who was arrested from a hotel in Mumbai in October 2001. He was suspected to be an Al Qaida operative and had confessed to being part of a series of 911 type global attacks. The targets included British House of Commons, Indian Parliament and the Rialto Towers in Melbourne, Australia. While Britain gave little credence to the story. Australia, heading into elections made full use of the explosive revelations and requested further cooperation from the Indian authorities. Afroz also claimed to have trained with two of the IC 814 hijackers in the Australian flying academy and was also familiar with some of the 911 suspects.


Role of Nepalese Agencies:

Some crucial insights in the case were also provided by the Nepalese agencies that were coordinating with India in the investigation. They revealed that a Pakistani diplomat, Mohammed Arshad Cheema (the First Secretary in Pakistan Embassy in Nepal) and his assistant Zia Ansari were spotted at the Tribhuvan airport on the day of hijack. The reason why his presence raised eyebrows was simply because of his previous dubious record. He had been accused of supplying RDX Explosives to terror outfits and also pumping fake currency in India via Nepal as an undercover ISI officer. In 2001, Nepal's security agencies finally apprehended him with 16 Kg RDX explosives in his bungalow in Baneshwor near downtown Kathmandu. He however conveniently escaped prosecution by invoking diplomatic immunity and was declared persona non grata and sent back to Pakistan.

The Aftermath

The immediate after effect of this incident was undoubtedly a huge blow to the fight against terrorism. The release of terrorists meant the strengthening of their cadre and foothold, enabling them to pursue their extremist agenda and boost their jihadist activities in the Kashmir region and elsewhere.

  • Maulana Masood Azhar after his release in 2000, split off from HuM and formed the Islamic terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), with the sole purpose of waging war against India. The same group is believed to have masterminded the attack on Indian Parliament on 13 December 2001 that killed 7 and injured 18 others. An attack that brought India-Pakistan on the brink of yet another war. He is also accused as one of the key conspirators of the Pathankot Airbase attack on 2nd January 2016. Despite JeM been declared a terrorist outfit by UN, Maulana still, walks a free man carrying out his vicious propaganda and inflammatory speeches on raging jihad against India. Despite India's repetitive attempt to declare him a global terrorist, Chinese veto at UN always finds him an escape route. The complicit behavior of Pakistani authorities is a no-brainer either, as they time and again put him under house arrest to deceive the world.
  • Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar renewed the activity of his terror outfit Al-Umar Mujahideen in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, close to the Indian border, recruiting and training young Muslims to the guerrilla war in Indian Kashmir.
  • Omar Saeed Sheikh or Omar Sheikh continued his association with various militant organizations including Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and sentenced to death for kidnapping and beheading of reporter Daniel Pearl, who was the South Asia bureau chief of Wall Street Journal and was investigating militant groups in Karachi, Pakistan. Omar was also accused of aiding US$100,000 to Mohamed Atta, one of the conspirators of 911 who flew the hijacked airliner into the WTC.

IC 814 hijack story also presented an ideal political opportunity and in no time became a slugfest in Indian political arena. It did give enough arsenal to the opposition parties against the ruling NDA Government and remained a hot button for a while. Even the fragile public opinion that echoed surrendering to terrorist demands, overnight changed to failed and weak governance. Irrespective of whether the Vajpayee-led NDA Government succumbed to the pressure of accountability towards its citizens onboard IC 814, the compromise made was being seen as a big blow to 'fight against terrorism'. It essentially blotted Vajpayee government's "tough-on-terror" claims and also highlighted clumsiness and incapability of effective crisis management in the higher echelons of the ruling dispensation. The Union Home Minister, L. K. Advani, admitted that the handling of the incident had somewhat damaged the reputation of the party in power.

The government of Nepal which was also in the limelight due to its brazen security lapses took immediate measures to strengthen its airport security. The move came post the Indian Government suspended its flights to Nepal for six months, following the hijacking episode.

Back in India after the new government led by Congress came into power a request was made to the US Government in March 2005 to share information to assist in a speedy trial and uncover various aspects of the entire operations. Following were the key pointers:

  1. To liaise with the concerned American authorities relating to the reported seizure of documents relating to the hijacking of IC-814 by US forces operating in Afghanistan.
  2. To collect evidence relating to the landing of the flight at Kandahar and the roles played by Afghan Taliban authorities.
  3. To get the responses from Mr. Mansoor Akhtar, ex-Civil Aviation Minister in the Taliban Government of Afghanistan, and Mr. Akhtar Usmani, the Taliban corps commander in Kandahar (reportedly in the custody of the American authorities) during the hijacking crisis.
  4. Examine the possibilities of getting statements from some important Taliban functionaries, now reportedly under the custody of American authorities.
  5. Any additional information available regarding the whereabouts/location/hideouts of the seven Pakistani nationals involved in the hijacking of IC-814.
  6. Any information available in the United States on the conduct of these aforesaid seven accused terrorists prior to, during, and after the hijacking of IC-814.
  7. Any photographs that may be available in the United States of accused Abdul Rauf, a key conspirator.
  8. Any additional evidence available in the United States relating to the landing of the hijacked aircraft at Lahore Airport, its subsequent refueling, take-off, etc.

The US, however, never complied stating they first needed more information from Indian agencies. They had previously termed the terrorist trade-off for the hostages as 'ignominious and defeat' and considered Indian requests as mere fishing expeditions. The same was revealed in the Wikileaks Cables.

Maulana Masood Azhar(C) spotted at a mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan along with his guards (January 27, 2000)
Maulana Masood Azhar(C) spotted at a mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan along with his guards (January 27, 2000)

Disclosures That Followed

Some of the most tragic incidents, coups, major crisis or government failures across the world are often brought to limelight years later by whistle blowers or through the first-hand account of the people that were directly or indirectly involved or had been close observers. Suddenly these exposures bring about a paradigm shift in the entire narrative. Ironically a lot of times these exposures turn out to be mere hoaxes, half-truths, personal vendetta or are sometimes even deliberately brushed aside as conspiracy theories. Nonetheless, they often do succeed to add an alternate perspective. This hijack story too had its fair share of curiosity and criticism that followed from the insider accounts of the various parties involved at some level in this crisis situation.

Kanchan Gupta who was then an aide to PM Vajpayee in the PMO (Prime Minister's Office), later gave an insider view on how the events unfolded in one of his blogs. Even though the tone was more or less diplomatic, the message was perhaps loud and clear though that a major 'goof-up' had happened and the national security had been left almost unattended to. The first glaring or rather embarrassing admittance was that Prime Minister Vajpayee who was on an official tour was not even alerted of this major crisis and it was not until his official flight landed at New Delhi airport that he was apprised of the developments. Roughly an hour and a half later. Excuse later floated was technical challenges in relaying information like the Air Force Boeing used by the PM were not equipped with satellite phones. But then why was the information not relayed through the pilot? According to Gupta, Crisis Management Group (CMG) had alerted the elite National Security Guards (NSG) as they were the best resource trained to handle such hostage situations. However they never made it on time to Amritsar, why did that happen was again left with some seemingly vague answers.

Now it's interesting that the CMG had good three hours including the crucial 45 minutes when the plane landed in Punjab Airport. However, they couldn't come up with a concrete strategy before the plane took off from Indian soil. Needless to mention that for CMG this wasn't a first of its kind situation. They have had handled such a situation in the past and handled it well.

On 24th April 1993, Indian Airlines flight IC 427 Delhi - Srinagar
was hijacked with 141 people onboard. The hijacker identified as 
Jalaluddin, carrying pistol and a hand grenade demanded that the 
flight be taken to Kabul. Air Traffic Control of Lahore refused to 
permit the aircraft to enter Pakistan airspace. The aircraft 
ultimately landed at 1520 hrs, at Amritsar. The negotiations began, 
however, could not reach a conclusion and at around 2300 hrs the 
hijacker gave a final ultimatum for refueling the aircraft failing 
which he would blow it up. The CMG gave green signal to the NSG 
commandos to commence operation at will. Storming operation by NSG 
was started at about 0100 hrs on 25th April and in a few minutes, 
the hijacking was terminated without any casualty or injury to any 
passenger or crew members.

Some more disclosure followed in the coming years as references through books penned down by people who were directly or indirectly involved at some point in the entire buildup. One such prominent reference was that of A S Dulat, former chief of the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) in his book ‘Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years’. He didn't squarely blame the government for the lapses but it was more of a read between the lines. "Then Punjab police chief Sarabjit Singh said that he had never been told by Delhi to stop the plane from taking off. But that he had told Delhi that he had “Punjab commandos trained in anti-terrorism operations who could storm the aircraft but Delhi's response was that it did not want any casualties. At that time reporters covering the event wrote of how an attempt had been made to block the path of the aircraft by moving a fuel truck, but that it was such a clumsy effort that the hijackers were alerted and insisted on the plane taking off for Lahore. The movement of the fuel bowser reflected the chaos in Delhi, as it moved on to the tarmac, stopped and seemed to be waiting for instructions. We also tried to prevail on the Americans to put pressure on the United Arab Emirates to allow us a raid, but India found itself isolated internationally." he wrote. Though bound by the Official Secrets Act (OSA), he had remained carefully selective.

Then Home Minister and a senior leader L K Advani often referred as the 'Iron Man" in his book ‘My Country, My Life” shifted the blame squarely on the US, the UAE and of course Pakistan for not doing enough. He wrote “I felt that the Americans, with their considerable military presence and diplomatic influence in the Gulf region, could have taken some effective proactive steps to put the hijacked plane out of action, so that Indian commandos could be sent there to rescue the hostages. I was deeply disappointed that they did not even try. A few days after the crisis had ended, when Blackwill called on me, I expressed my displeasure to him. ‘This is not what we understand by Indo-US cooperation in fighting terrorism,’ I told him,”. Well! All said and done owning up wouldn't have rusted his mettle.

Former RAW officer, R K Yadav, in his book Mission R&AW mentioned days before the hijacking, a junior RAW operative in Kathmandu informed his senior Officer SBS Tomar about Pakistani terrorists planning to hijack an Indian plane. Tomar, however, had rubbished the report and erred by not alerting RAW headquarters in Delhi about a possible hijack. Call it fate or whatever, Tomar himself had ended up on that very flight. Yadav also goes on to claim that the critical delay at Amritsar Airport happened to ensure the safety of Tomar as his wife was the youngest sibling of N K Singh, who was one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the Prime Minister's Office and was a part of Crisis Management Group that monitored the entire hijack episode.

Pakistani Journalist Zahid Hussain, who was in Kandahar during the entire hijacking episode, later disclosed in his book Frontline Pakistan that Afghan sources had revealed that the hijackers were taking instructions from the Pakistani intelligence officers (ISI) present at the airport.

Some independent editorials also claimed that the requested bounty of US$20 Million was actually paid and Jaswant Singh, then foreign minister went with the money on the plane that also carried the three terrorists. However the same was never verified. Congressman R K Anand in his letter had alleged that money was flown to Kandahar. While the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had acknowledged receiving Anand's letter, nothing more was done on the matter even by the subsequent Congress-led UPA Government that came to power in 2004.

An article published in Sunday Guardian (August 17, 2013) claimed that the GOI had prior information on the hijack but it chose to ignore it. According to an RTI filed by a Delhi activist, a Shillong-based businessman Uma Shankar Mishra had written a letter to the Chief Secretary of Meghalaya on 29 September 1999, 84 days before the hijack, informing the state government about the "plan to hijack airplane from Kathmandu, Nepal." Mishra was tipped about the plan by a former ISI agent Ibrahim Hussain. This crucial information however never reached the Indian Government, as was also revealed in an investigative story by NewsX. In August 2000, Hussain was found dead under mysterious circumstances and with him died the story.

NewsX Investigation on Mishra's Claims

Public Reaction

Turbulent times like these often binds up even the most divided sections in the society or country as a whole. This was far from reality in this particular case and as usual the political class was to be blamed. Milking the cow by fueling protests and participating in demonstrations to pressurize the government, to give in to the demands of the hijackers. Yet claiming to unequivocally support every government action. While the concern, restlessness, and discontent from the family members of those on board the hijacked flight was expected but the public at large seemed to have divided opinions. That spirit of unity and solidarity seemed lacking during these testing times that kept the nation on tenterhooks. An apparent example was seen by the response of crowd in the manner in which they booed down a war widow, who had volunteered to address the affected families and request them to maintain calm. Even the External Affairs Minister while addressing public gathering was sent back with rather disheartening and harsh words "To hell with the country and the national interest", "Give away Kashmir if need be".


The Mystery Passengers

Among the lesser known facts was the presence of Roberto Giori on the same flight. One of Switzerland's richest men also referred to as 'currency tycoon' and the owner of the Lausanne-based company De La Rue Giori that dealt in printing currency of about 150 nations worldwide and almost had a monopoly on currency printing. He had boarded the Flight IC 814 after a holiday in Kathmandu with his companion Cristina Calabresi.

Two days after the hijack, on Sunday, 26 December, the Swiss Foreign Minister, Mr. Joseph Deiss, had a long telephone conversation with his Indian counterpart, Mr. Jaswant Singh. According to Geneva's Le Temps, the message was tough and direct: "Everything must be done to obtain the liberation of the passengers, but on condition that the security of the hostages is guaranteed.'' The Swiss Government had set up a separate cell in the capital Berne to deal with the crisis and had also sent a special envoy, Mr. Hans Stalder, to Kandahar who regularly reported back to Berne. According to the Repubblica and Corriere Della Sera newspapers, ever since his return to Switzerland by a special plane, Mr. Roberto Giori was placed under the protection of the Swiss Government which was filtering and scrutinizing his telephone calls to verify that the accomplices of the hijackers have not been able to identify or trace him. The question remains, what was a rich, elite and VVIP like him doing on a low-cost airliner?

Besides Mr. Giori, there was yet another mystery passenger on board IC 814. Mr. SBS Tomar, who was a senior officer in the intelligence agency, RAW. Except for few top officials in the government, no one knew of his presence. However on 27th December while negotiations were still ongoing in Kandahar, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman, Tariq Altaf, blew off his cover before the International Press in Islamabad. He went ahead of accusing Tomar to be the mastermind behind the hijack in order to help Pakistan wash off its hands completely. Indian media though remained censored on this news until the safety of all passengers was secured. It was later revealed he was on an unofficial trip to India to see his wife. His presence in the flight was later reaffirmed by the ex-RAW chief A S Daulat. The story was first carried out in the Frontline magazine's January 2000 issue in India. The revelations of his relations with the top bureaucrats in the Prime Minister's office, who were also supposedly the key decision makers in the initial phase of the hijacking episode, remained a bone of contention among many.

IC 814 Hijack Story

Do you think that the government failed in efficiently handling this major crisis situation?

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Did the Indian Government err in releasing the three dreaded terrorists? Perhaps that's a question which actually has no correct answer. However, considering the clumsiness in the higher echelons, the failed diplomacy, critical lapses and goof-ups along the eight-day ordeal, it wouldn't be wrong to say that the Indian Government was completely outmaneuvered by a handful of terrorists during this whole hijack episode.

References

http://mea.gov.in/articles-in-indian-media.htm?dtl/15880/The+ghosts+of+IC814

“Storming of IC 814 dropped not because of officer’s presence” http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/storming-of-ic-814-dropped-not-because-of-officers-presence-says-former-raw-chief/article7544605.ece

"The Demons We Created"
https://www.dawn.com/news/1234101

Wikileaks Cables 2005, Communication between Government of India and US Government

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2053713,00.html

Various perspectives and insider accounts referenced in books quoted in the article

http://nepalitimes.com/~nepalitimes/news.php?id=8228#.WT6yXOuGPIU

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/ic-814-hijack-tough-negotiation-begins -as-India-is-up-against-desperate-terrorists-and-talibans/1/243269.html

http://foreignminister.gov.au/releases/1999/fa140_99.html

http://edition.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/south/12/06/india.terror/index.html

http://www.sunday-guardian.com/news/govt-was-warned-of-ic-814-kandahar -hijack

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Ashutosh Joshi

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      • AshutoshJoshi06 profile imageAUTHOR

        Ashutosh Joshi 

        17 months ago from New Delhi, India

        hahaha thanks for taking the time. You know how I feel about 'Conspiracy Theory' - I see two impactful words when seperate 'Conspiracy' and 'Theory' and a deliberate meaningless term when merged. If you know what I mean.

        Anyways, good luck with that!!

      • profile image

        Bhuvan K 

        17 months ago

        There were a lot of interesting pieces here, specially the mystery passengers. Thinking of these events makes me wanna become a conspiracy theorist for once.

      • AshutoshJoshi06 profile imageAUTHOR

        Ashutosh Joshi 

        21 months ago from New Delhi, India

        Glad, that you liked it. Tried my best to stick to the facts.

      • Anita Hasch profile image

        Anita Hasch 

        21 months ago from Port Elizabeth

        Thank you for a interesting and informative hub.

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