A suspected Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) operative arrested in Dhaka has told Bangladeshi investigators that he arranged safe passage to India from Bangladesh for several Islamist militants who were involved in the 1999 hijack of an Indian Airlines plane.
"Nannu Mia alias Belal Mandal alias Billal told us during interrogation that he helped send such 12-13 militants to India from Bangladesh. He knows one Abdur Rahman among them," The Daily Star on Saturday quoted an interrogator who quizzed Billal at the Task Force for Interrogation (TFI) cell.
In December 1999, militants hijacked the Delhi-bound Indian Airlines plane (flight number 814) after it took off from Kathmandu. They forced the aircraft to land in Kandahar in the then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Indian authorities had to release four terrorists, including Jaish founder Moulana Masood Azhar, in return for safe release of all the passengers.
Billal, 35, was arrested last Sunday along with four other suspected JeM militants, including Rezwan Ahmed, a Pakistani national who has been coordinating the Jaish activities here for the last five years. Billal has admitted his involvement in the 1999 plane hijack.
Although there are doubts in India about Billal's involvement in the hijack drama, a team of sleuths from New Delhi is expected here to interrogate him, besides probing Pakistan-based JeM's role in using the Bangladesh route to infiltrate India.
A Bangladeshi national who served 10 years in jail in Guwahati in northeast India before returning home, Billal told investigators that he was introduced to Rezwan around seven to eight months back through another Pakistani national and suspected JeM militant Zawad.
"And he (Billal) again started working for Jaish-e-Mohammed for the last three months and has already received Tk 60,000 ($900) from Rezwan," the investigator said.
The other Jaish operatives held in Dhaka last Sunday are Abu Naser Munshi, Imad Uddin alias Munna and Sadeque Hossain alias Khoka.
Rezwan of Karachi, who is still being quizzed at the TFI cell, said he used to get the money from Zawad.
Billal also said that Zawad was known to him for quite a long time and he talked to Zawad in Pakistan around 100 times over his cellphone, the interrogator said.