Copybook crime splits and rules
Die-hard comedian denies playing plane villain
Amritsar-stung Advani waves quit letter
Brickbats to bouquets for Atal
Needle points to sixth man
Bomb scare delays plane’s return

 
 
COPYBOOK CRIME SPLITS AND RULES 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 1 
It is dawning on security experts here that they had been dealing with a very sophisticated group of hijackers over the past week.

The hijacking of IC 814 was a meticulously planned job. “What they did and achieved should become part of the hijackers’ manual,” a senior official admitted.

The cornerstone of the plan was segregation of the passengers on the basis of gender, an idea which experts cannot recall as having been tried before.

The front portion of the economy class had been set aside for women and children, while the men were taken to the rear. The crew were in the economy class. The business class was empty except for hand-baggage.

The segregation was possible because the Airbus, with a capacity of 240, was carrying only 175 passengers. So even if the business class was emptied, there were enough seats in the economy class. Some passengers said a few rows between the sections for men and women were left empty.

Once the hijackers felt secure, the segregation rules were relaxed.

The segregation served an important purpose, experts feel. The hijackers must have known that the passengers were a crowd of holidayers and obviously comprised families. It was more likely that the men, out of concern for their families, would not use physical force to overpower the hijackers if they were segregated.

Passengers said this is exactly what happened. Rupin Katyal, who lost his life, had probably lost his cool. He was separated from his newly-wedded wife — they had gone on their honeymoon to Kathmandu — and was in all likelihood extremely anxious to find out if she was safe. The hijackers probably killed him because he was being fidgety.

With the men, the hijackers were gruff and rude. This was again a psychological ploy. “Men understand fear. Male passengers would have grown confident if they perceived the hijackers as gentlemen and, therefore, possibly weak,” an expert said.

Unlike the female passengers, no man had any pleasant word for his captors. “None of them developed any rapport with the masked men who ordered them around, threatened them with death whenever they looked up,” another official said.

But the women did. They developed, if not a liking, an appreciation of the kindness that the hijackers were showing to them.

This could be another well-thought out strategy. Protected women as most Indian housewives are, they tend to be frightened out of their wits under such circumstances. Unless they are made to feel comfortable and at ease in a hostile environment, they might lose control of their emotions and create problems.

The hijackers were not going to risk international wrath and let down the Taliban or the Pakistani establishment, where they are believed to have friends, by killing a woman.

Hence their model behaviour with the women. That is why Aarti Gupta said she never felt threatened; or the hijackers presented a shawl to Pooja Kataria on her birthday, December 27. It came with a tag attached which had “To my true sister” written on it.

This could induce the Stockholm syndrome: hostages taking a liking for their captors and even learning to empathise with them and their cause. Not that the women have any sympathies for their captors — but they appreciate their good manners and “sensitivity”.

Except for two or three men, it is easy to explain why the hijackers had released the women with infants and small children at Dubai on the first night itself.

They did not want any trouble which mothers with infants can bring. The hijackers would rather not have them if there was going to be a long haul in Kandahar and talks dragged on for days. In hindsight, they knew all along that Afghanistan would be their final destination, officials feel.

The hijackers were accommodating as well. They allowed the cleaning of toilets and electricity and heating arrangements reset inside the plane once the aircraft settled down in Kandahar. Talks had begun and they knew they could not burden themselves with the plight of the passengers. So they let them relax, play cards and chess, and permitted some inter-mingling. There was little that the passengers could do in Taliban territory.

The hijackers had the assistance of the Taliban once the bargaining began. In a friendly land, they did not go through the additional pressure of having to bargain with the Indian negotiators with their backs against the wall. But the competence they showed in drawing up and executing the plan, and the back-up they had, made the hijack a perfect crime.    


 
 
DIE-HARD COMEDIAN DENIES PLAYING PLANE VILLAIN 
 
 
FROM KESHAV PRADHAN
 
Kathmandu, Jan. 1 
Face hid in a mask, he walked up and down the length of the IC 814 with a gun in hand and threaten the passengers in Hindi peppered with Nepali.

That was Gajandraman Tamrakar the hijacker, according to some Indian intelligence officials. But as the rotund man walked into the VIP arrival lounge of the Tribhuvan international airport today, he did not seem to fit the bill.

The 34-year-old Tamrakar, known for his girth — he weighs over 100 kg — and his comedy roles in Nepali films and television, had been reported to be one of the hijackers. But Tamrakar himself, who is into the pashmina shawl business now, had no inkling of any charge against him while he was on the plane.

“In fact I was entertaining other passengers with jokes. When we were freed yesterday, some of the passengers offered me sweets and promised to meet me again. But I was stunned when Nepalese ambassador to Pakistan Kumar Gewali informed me of the allegation. I could not sleep through last night,” Tamrakar said.

Clad in a blue-black jacket and trousers, and sporting a red tilak on his forehead and a garland round his neck, Tamrakar was received by Nepalese foreign minister Ram Sharan Mahat, tourism minister Bijay Gacchedar and minister of state for civil aviation Narayan Singh Pun as well as family and friends.

Before Tamrakar’s return, Mahat and Gewali, who was also at Kandahar during the negotiations between India and the hijackers, had declared that no Nepalese national was involved in the hijacking.

Fifteen years ago, Tamrakar had acted in a Nepal-Pakistan joint venture film.

Tamrakar said the hijackers had also tried to lift him by the scruff of his neck as soon as they took over the plane. “I think there is a dent in my left temple as the hijackers kept the nozzle of the gun pressed there for a long time. Despite this, I made others laugh during the tense moments. The hijackers once even asked me where I came from,” he said.

Rojina Pathak, another passenger, said she did not see any Nepalese hijacker on board. There were eight Nepalese in the plane, of whom Tamrakar and three others arrived today.

Two more will reach tonight while an elderly couple stayed back in Delhi for treatment.

Tamrakar’s wife Meera said the family is planning to sue a private television channel for reportedly describing her husband as a hijacker.

The actor had switched to the pashmina shawl business recently after trying the transport business. He had boarded the Indian Airlines flight with about 800 shawls after he missed a Royal Nepal Airlines flight for which he had a confirmed ticket.

Earlier, officials in the Indian embassy had expressed fears that India’s campaign against Pakistan on terrorism would suffer a setback if the report of Tamrakar as a hijacker proved wrong.

The hijack coverage by the Indian media has angered politicians and the press here, who are now accusing India of trying to use the hijacking as a pretext to take over Nepal’s security.    


 
 
AMRITSAR-STUNG ADVANI WAVES QUIT LETTER 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
New Delhi, Jan.1 
Hardliners in the BJP are sore with the coterie in the Prime Minister’s Office for sidetracking home minister L. K. Advani, who offered to quit office during the crisis.

The home minister had not even been taken into confidence regarding the decision to release the three terrorists.

In keeping with his hard line, Advani, right from the beginning, was against any soft option and had argued that it was not in the nation’s interest to capitulate before the Pak-sponsored militants.

For the home minister, who is advocating a “hot pursuit” pro-active Kashmir policy, the release of the terrorists could not have come at a worse time. It would not only demoralise the armed forces fighting a no-holds barred battle in Kashmir, but also rob the BJP of its image of a party which has vowed to teach Pakistan a lesson.

Sangh parivar insiders, however, say the RSS leadership is unlikely to blast the government for caving in to the hijackers’ demand as it was out of compulsion. In its forthcoming issue, the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser, has commended the government for the “good job” it has done but has also criticised it for the security lapse.

According to sources, though the Sangh parivar is officially backing the government action, a senior hardliner has gone to the extent of dubbing the foreign minister “Jayachand Singh” for his role in releasing the terrorists.

Sources said the home minister was also cut up with parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan who, at the Cabinet meeting on December 29, tried to blame Advani for the bungling at Amritsar.

Stung by Mahajan’s barbs, Advani has asked the director of Intelligence Bureau to defend his ministry’s role in the Amritsar operation and clear misgivings about the decision to allow the aircraft to take off.

The home minister, however, did not utter a word about the hijack drama while addressing reporters covering the BJP’s national council at Chennai, though Mahajan, Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh were regularly interacting with the media in Delhi.

Fed up with the innuendoes and reports in the media suggesting his failure in taking steps to prevent the plane from leaving the country after a 40-minute halt at Amritsar, Advani sent a two-page resignation letter to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee on December 29.

Sources said, Vajpayee told Advani not to take matters to his heart. “We cannot stay in this government without you,” Vajpayee is learnt to have told Advani.

Though he did not press the matter further, a sulking Advani refused to go to Delhi airport on Friday night when the hostages arrived even though the Prime Minister sent an emissary to his residence to placate him.

In fact, when the PMO organised a meeting between the hostages and Vajpayee today, Advani and his family members left Delhi for some undisclosed place for a quiet New Year get-together.    


 
 
BRICKBATS TO BOUQUETS FOR ATAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 1 
It was roses all the way to 7 Race Course Road. The passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight arrived at the Prime Minister’s residence this evening to thank him and his government for negotiating their release from week-long captivity.

One by one the passengers and their families trooped inside, holding flowers and cards. Yesterday, it was sheer relief that had soaked up the passengers and the waiting relatives. If they spoke to the media, they did so in a daze. It had been a rough passage to freedom — and they were still finding their feet.

Less than 24 hours later, they were able to talk about the traumatic turn of events in a more composed manner, but not without a shiver running down their spines. “It is stressful to go through it all over again. It was terrible,” said flight engineer Anil Jagga. He lost his voice on the flight and was barely able to speak. His wife said Jagga had spent the entire day in the Indian Airlines office. “He had left in the morning and returned in the evening.”

As a foggy twilight descended upon Delhi, the passengers drove up to the barricaded gates of the Prime Minister’s residence. They were escorted inside through the reception by security personnel. The media milled outside.

For the Prime Minister, it was time to receive accolades. All’s well that ends well is what the passengers and their relatives said. “We came to thank the Prime Minister,” said Sanjeev Sharma. He added that Atal Behari Vajpayee told them it was a difficult situation. The government wanted the hostages released before the new year.

“Shri Vajpayee told us that the hijackers were tough, ruthless people who wanted to spread communal disharmony. He said it was a most un-Islamic act on their part at the time of Ramzan,” said Sharma.

Like their relatives, the passengers skirted any talk on the long-term repercussions of the militants’ release. They were more at ease talking about what happened on the flight and in Kandahar.

Captain D. Sharan, who was flying the plane, said there was no way the hijackers could be overpowered at Amritsar airport.    


 
 
NEEDLE POINTS TO SIXTH MAN 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 1 
The government believes that the hijackers were mere puppets being controlled by a ‘‘third force’’.

Foreign minister Jaswant Singh said today the talks would often break down because the hijackers would go into a huddle. The negotiators noticed that the terrorists seemed to consult someone outside the plane.

Singh, however, did not spell out whether this ‘‘somebody’’ was the sixth man whose identity has puzzled investigators, but he said the man was not a Taliban official.

The Telegraph had earlier reported that at least one of the hijackers was a Pakistani agent. This man may have boarded the flight at Kathmandu and then sneaked out at Lahore or Dubai. He could have slipped out unnoticed as the passengers were blindfolded.

This sixth man is believed to have given directions to the hijackers over powerful communication sets which most passengers said they noticed.    


 
 
BOMB SCARE DELAYS PLANE’S RETURN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 1 
One day after the hostages were released, the hijacked plane, their prison during the eight-day ordeal, was brought back by a crew that had reached Kandahar with the team of negotiators.

The Indian Airlines Airbus had to stay back because there was a “bomb on the plane”, said the co-pilot of the flight after reaching Delhi this afternoon.

And at his news conference this evening, foreign minister Jaswant Singh spoke of a suspicious suitcase. It appeared to be a dear possession of the hijackers, for even after coming down with their luggage and stacking them on Taliban-provided landrovers, they were insistent on getting back the suitcase.

One hijacker was intent on boarding the aircraft and getting back the suitcase, but was prevented by his colleagues because it was getting late.

Singh watched this drama from the other end of the tarmac.

The suitcase is believed to be stacked with explosives. It appears the hijackers did not leave it behind with the purpose of blowing the plane up.

There was no timer-device to suggest a carefully planned dismemberment of the plane. The hijackers, it seems, had no apparent reasons to do so as for them, the hijacking had gone off without a hitch and the negotiations too had paid off.

But the suitcase did appear to have created a furore after the minister returned with the passengers.

Indian Airlines and civil aviation authorities here issued strict instructions to the crew not to board the plane till that suitcase was removed and the cockpit cleaned.    

 

FRONT PAGE / NATIONAL / EDITORIAL / BUSINESS / THE EAST / SPORTS
ABOUT US /FEEDBACK / ARCHIVE 
 
Maintained by Web Development Company