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CIA knew 'Harkat plan' 3 yrs before IC-814 hijack

This nugget of information is in an Aug '96 CIA document that was recently declassified, reports Amit Baruah.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2007 00:22 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times

Three years before Indian Airlines flight IC-814 was hijacked to Kandahar, the Central Intelligence Agency had information that the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) might be preparing to “attack civilian or VIP aircraft in India”.

This nugget of information is in an August 1996 CIA document that was recently declassified and is now available on the website of The National Security Archive, linked to the George Washington University.

An actual terrorist action against the Indian Airlines flight took place in December 1999. More importantly, it was carried out by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen the new name for the Harkat-ul-Ansar.

“HuA contacts of Embassy New Delhi have hinted that they might undertake terrorist action against civilian airliners… Attacks on civilian aircraft in India could well involve Western casualties, given the large number of Western tourists in that country,” the four-page document said.

It warned that the terrorist threat from the Harkat-ul-Ansar was increasing as the group shifted from attacks on Indian security forces in Kashmir to Westerners and civilian targets, which could involve Westerners, outside of Kashmir.

An official source claimed on Wednesday that the CIA did not share this information with Indian sleuths. The fragmented contents of the paper, however, show United States Embassy officials were in touch with Harkat contacts in New Delhi.

According to the document, the HuA may also have assisted the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front in carrying out the May 1996 Lajpat Nagar market bombing in New Delhi which killed 13 people.

In another damning piece of evidence, the CIA quoted “diplomatic reports” as saying that the Pakistani Inter-Services (ISI) Intelligence Directorate provided “at least $30,000 and possibly as much as $60,000 per month to the HuA”.

The document also claimed that Islamabad appeared to be scaling back its support to the HuA, probably out of concern that its ties to the group might prompt Washington to put Pakistan on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Showing tremendous foresight, the CIA warned that Pakistan’s compliance with US and British demands to crack down on the group could be “costly to Islamabad”. After the September 11 terror strikes, when Pakistan became an “ally” of the United States in the war against terrorism, Harkat elements, especially Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Mohammed, targeted even President Pervez Musharraf. During the recent Lal Masjid siege, General Musharraf warned that Jaish suicide bombers were hiding inside the mosque.

“Pakistan is unlikely to accede fully, but any strong action aimed at stopping the group’s activities might prompt the HuA to retaliate. Although the HuA’s operations are primarily targeted against India, some of the group's rhetoric and past actions demonstrate a hostility toward Islamabad that could be fuelled by a loss of Islamabad's patronage,” the paper added.

First Published: Aug 29, 2007 23:28 IST