A special court on Tuesday convicted three men and sentenced them to life imprisonment for conspiracy in the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 from Nepal to Kandahar in Afghanistan in December 1999.
Abdul Latif, Dalip Kumar and Yusuf Nepali were found guilty under the Anti-Hijacking Act by special judge Inderjit Singh Walia. The court was held at the high-security Patiala central jail complex where the three accused were lodged after their arrest.
The three were present in the court when the verdict was given.
Of the 10 accused, only three could be nabbed. The other seven - all Pakistani nationals - indicted in the case are at large.
The seven have been identified as Ibrahim Athar alias Chief, Sunny Ahmed Qazi alias Burger, Sahid Sayeed Akhtar alias Doctor, Zahoor Ibrahim Mistry alias Bhola, Shakir alias Shankar and Jaish-e-Muhammad Maulana Masood Azhar's brother Yusuf Azhar and his brother-in-law Abdul Rauf.
Sayeed Akhtar was accused of killing 25-year-old Rupen Katyal, a passenger on board the hijacked flight, with a knife. The hijackers also injured another passenger, Satnam Singh, during the weeklong ordeal.
Hearing in the matter, including the cross-examination of over 120 witnesses in the last seven years since March 2001, was completed last month.
While the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested Abdul Latif and Dalip Kumar from Mumbai in December 1999, Yusuf Nepali was arrested later from Kathmandu. They have been in Patiala jail since their arrest.
The conspirators were accused of helping the Pakistani hijackers in procuring fake passports and other papers and helping them take weapons inside the flight. They were not directly involved with the hijack.
The Indian Airlines' New Delhi-bound flight from Kathmandu was hijacked on December 24, 1999 with 179 passengers and 11 crew members on board. The plane was taken towards Pakistan but later landed at Amritsar airport. It then took off again and landed at Lahore and Dubai for refuelling before finally landing at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
The weeklong drama ended with the hijackers securing the release of three dreaded terrorists from Indian prisons - Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) chief Masood Azhar, Al Umar Mujahideen chief Mushtaq Zargar and Ahmed Omar Sayeed Sheikh, who has been convicted in the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
While Masood Azhar and Sheikh are Pakistanis, Zargar is an Indian Kashmiri. Then Indian external affairs minister Jaswant Singh flew with the terrorists to Kandahar to secure the release of the passengers on board.
According to the prosecution case, the conspiracy of the hijacking was hatched in 1999 in Sabzi Mandi area of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. The plans for travel, hotel accommodation and travelling documents were also finalised.
Weapons, including hand grenades and revolvers, and fake passports were procured later.
The CBI has said in its chargesheet that the entire operation was masterminded by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen's agents and aided by Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI.
CBI officials said it was the recording of the confessional statements of the accused that led to the convictions.