A decade before 9/11, plans to use aircraft for terror strikes were mooted by ISI-backed Punjab militant group to target India, a former top intelligence official said.
A Babbar Khalsa militant had admitted that he was asked by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) to join a flying club and crash his plane on the Bombay High oil platform during a solo flight, former Additional Secretary in the Research and Analyses Wing B Raman said.
"What was new about the 9/11 strikes was the dramatic manner in which this modus operandi was executed for carrying out well-orchestrated attacks on the nerve centres of US power," Raman said.
In his latest book 'Terrorism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow', Raman warns that mushrooming of airlines, rapid rise in the number of private planes owned by corporates and high-end individuals, coupled with a massive shortage of pilots in India, has made the task of preventing terrorists from using aircraft to carry out attacks "more complex".
Recommending a comprehensive security vetting procedure for checking the background of foreign pilots before recruitment and monitoring their contacts and activities after recruitment, he said "this trans-national migration of pilots might be exploited by terrorist organisations to have their members qualified as pilots infiltrated into airline companies."
In the book published by Lancers, he said a Babbar Khalsa terrorist trained by the ISI, was arrested by the Indian authorities in the early 1990s. During interrogation, he said the ISI had asked him to join the Mumbai flying club and crash his plane on the Bombay High oil platform on a solo flight.
India, which has been a victim of a series of hijackings since January 1971, also experienced the June 1985 blowing up of Air India's Kanishka aircraft by Babbar Khalsa and the 1999 Kandahar hijack.
Referring to the Kandahar hijack of an Indian Airlines plane, Raman said it brought to light serious deficiencies in India's national security management.
These included the "failure" of intelligence agencies to detect the presence of Harkat-ul Mujahedeen (HuM) hijackers in Mumbai since November 5, 1999, the "failure of the Crisis Management Group" (CMG) to ground the plane in Amritsar, the delay in starting negotiations at Kandahar and the "total lack of coherence and professionalism in the handling of the crisis by CMG at the political and professional level."
This was the first hijack of an Indian aircraft by a Pakistan-based terror outfit which is a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front.
It was carried out by the second largest terrorist team of five hijackers in the world, the first being seven Palestinians who hijacked an Air France flight to Entebbe in 1976.
He said the Kandahar hijack was the sixth major one since 1948 in which the targeted government conceded the demands of the hijackers. It was the first hijacking in India in which the terrorists "intentionally and brutally" killed one of the passengers to intimidate the pilot.
Raman also noted an "explosive increase" in the number of hijacks worldwide with 38 in 1968 followed by 82 the next year. One reason for this was the CIA-inspired hijackings to destabilise the Fidel Castro government that had taken over in Cuba in January 1959, he said.