Osama bin Laden was intimately involved in the hijacking of IC-814 in December 1999, and Al-Qaeda, the global terror network on which he presides, is consolidating its ties with Kashmiri extremist groups.
Senior fellow of Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, Bruce Riedel, in his article Al-Qaeda Five Years After the Fall of Kandhar for the US-based private non-profit organisation "The Brookings Institution", has traced how in the past years this terror network has become "Pakistanized" after losing control of Afghanistan, its original control and command centre.
In his nearly 6000-word well-researched piece, Riedel, among other things has made a startling disclosure about the December 1999 hijacking of IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandhar — the capital of Taliban ruled Afghanistan.
"Al-Qaeda also moved closer to Kashmiri terrorist groups like Lashkar-e Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. These ties predated 9/11. In late 1999 for example Bin Ladin had been intimately involved in the Kashmiri hijacking of an Indian airliner to Kandahar along with the Taliban and Pakistani intelligence agents", the article points out.
India had released three hardcore terrorists — Maulana Azhar Masood, Mushtaq Zarar of Al-Umar Mujahadeen and Syed Umar Sheikh — from jail in lieu of 165 passengers of the hijacked airliner. Subsequently, all the three fled to Pakistan.
Azhar founded Jaish-e-Mohammad, Syed Umar Sheikh is in jail on charges of murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and Mushtaq Zargar is believed to be in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
Though it was suspected that Taliban and Pakistan's ISI were involved in the hijacking, it is for the first time that Osama bin Laden has been directly linked to the hijacking.
The author has also observed that the Al-Qaeda is consolidating its ties with the Kashmiri extremist groups. "In the wake of the loss of Afghanistan both the Taliban and Qaeda moved to consolidate their ties to the Kashmiri extremists."
On July 13, 2006, two days after the Mumbai train bombings in which nearly 200 people perished — a caller identifying himself as Abu al-Hadeed had told a news agency Current News Service (CNS) on the phone that "Al-Qaeda had started its operations in Kashmir". His statement had led to a hot chase of the clues by the police and investigating agencies about Al-Qaeda presence in Kashmir, while the local terrorist outfits including Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen had strongly refuted that the Al-Qaeda had arrived in the Valley.
But LeT has been active in the state since 1994, while Jaish-e-Mohammad first made its presence felt in April 2000, when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Badami Bagh cantonment in Srinagar.
Email Arun Joshi: a-Joshi957@rediffmail.com