The life sentence to Abdul Latif Adam Momin for the 1999 Kandahar aircraft hijack is upheld and, against the wish of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), won't be enhanced to death.
The Punjab and Haryana high court on Tuesday also acquitted convicts Yusuf Nepali and Dilip Kumar Bhujel of the charges of conspiracy in the case and found them guilty of only the Arms Act violation. In Patiala jail for the past more than 14 years, Indian national Momin is linked with Pakistan-based militant outfit Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). Bhujel is also an Indian, while Nepali is from Nepal.
The judgment will bring Bhujel and Nepali out of prison, as they have long served the three-year sentence that a special anti-hijacking court in Patiala had awarded them under the Arms Act on February 5, 2008. Bhujel had procured weapons and cartridges in Nepal to hand it over to Nepali but the court found no evidence that both were involved in the hijacking conspiracy.
The division bench comprising justices Hemant Gupta and Fateh Deep Singh said in the case of Momin: "Though the offences are serious, impinging upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, but keeping in view the fact that the appellant (Momin) is in custody since December 30, 1999, we do not find that any case is made out for the enhancement of sentence to death (as demanded by the CBI)."
Allowing appeals by Nepali and Bhujel partly, the court set aside their conviction for murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, wrongful confinement, forgery, criminal intimidation, criminal conspiracy and hijacking but upheld it for the weapon transaction.
On September 20 last year, the court had reserved its judgment in the case. CBI special prosecutor Sukhdeep Singh Sandhu had sought death sentence to Momin in the larger public interest, and the upholding of the trial court life sentence to Nepali and Bhujel.
After taking off from Kathmandu en route Delhi on December 24, 1999, the IC-814 Indian Airlines flight with 179 passengers, including 24 foreign nationals, and a crew of 11 on board was hijacked and made to touch down in Amritsar first before being flown to Lahore for refuelling and then landed in Dubai and, later, Kandahar in Afghanistan, finally.
At Dubai, the hijackers released 26 wounded passengers along with the body of murdered Rupin Katyal. The remaining hostages, including 20 foreign nationals, were released after eight-day ordeal on December 31, 1999, at Kandahar, and flown back to India in a special aircraft.
Katyal, married just two months ago, was stabbed 27 times in the neck in front of some other hostages. The hijackers negotiated with the Indian government and secured the freedom of terrorists Masood Azhar Alvi, Syed Omar Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar from the Indian jails on December 31, 1999, in exchange for the safe release of the hostages.
The five hijackers
Ibrahim Athar Alvi (brother of Maulana Masood Azhar, head of terrorist outfit Jash-e-Mohammed), Shahid Saeed Akhtar, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri and Farooa Abdul Aziz Siddiqui, all Harkat-ul-Mujahideen terrorists.