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Asia

Plane hijacker arrested as Indo-Pak ties improve

The arrest of a man suspected of planning the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814can be viewed as an indication of improved Indo-Pakistani relations and international cooperation, say experts.

A top militant allegedly involved in the 1999 hijacking of an Indian plane that was flown to Afghanistan has been arrested in Jammu and Kashmir.

Ending a 13-year-long hunt, the Jammu and Kashmir police finally arrested a top militant commander named Mehrajuddin Dand, alias Javed, who was allegedly the brains behind a high-profile hijacking of the state-run Indian Airlines jet in 1999.

Mastermind of Kandahar hijack

In December 1999, the now famousairline, IC-814, with 176 passengers on board, was commandeered by five Pakistani militants and forced to land at three different airports - Amritsar, Lahore, and Dubai - before being taken to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, the bastion of the then Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters seen near Kabul Thursday, Oct. 3, 1996. (Photo: AP Photo/Hurriyet)

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to2001

The aircraft had to spend a week on the tarmac in Kandahar before three terrorists were swapped for the hostages. None of the five armed hijackers was caught.

"Mehrajuddin was main person who arranged for all the logistics for carrying out the Kandahar hijacking. He facilitated the entry of five masked men into the aircraft with guns, knives and grenades and arranged the finances," said Inspector General of Police Dilbagh Singh.

The police maintain that Mehrajuddin was taking care of planning and finances and had returned recently from Pakistan through Nepal to "recruit youth for militant attacks."

Mehrajuddin is one of the longest surviving militants in Kashmir and is suspected to have been an operative for Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for the last 25 years. He was arrested in 1990 and jailed for two years. After his release, he fled from Kashmir.

However, the police remained conspicuously silent on how he was arrested.

Another prize catch

In addition to Mehrajuddin, Indian security agencies scored another success in June with the arrest of Syed Zabiuddin Ansari, alias Abu Jundal, one of the key plotters of the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai.

It was Jundal who reportedly directed the lone surviving gunman Ajmal Kasab and the other attackers from a control room in Pakistan.

Saudi police helped India in this major breakthrough in the probe. They put him on a New Delhi-bound flight after alerting authorities there about the prize catch.

Is international assistance working?

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, left and his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar (Photo: Manish Swarup/AP/dapd)

Indo-Pakistani ties are showing signs of improvement

After Kasab and David Headley, another conspirator currently in US detention, the arrest of Jundal is seen as the third major success in India's effort to unravel the 26/11 plot.

"Getting Saudi Arabia to deport Jundal to India is unlikely to have happened without the intervention and influence of the US. Right now international cooperation against terrorism is important for our counter-terrorism operations," a senior intelligence official told DW on conditions of anonymity.

It is not surprising then that international collaboration could have played a role in Mehrajuddin's arrest as well, as it took place days after Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna visited Pakistan and signed a pact to normalize relations.

"There has been a definite thaw in India- pakistan ties of late. I hope it lasts and both countries can cooperate on security as well," security expert Hartosh Singh Bal told DW.

The recent peace initiatives between the two warring neighbors, India and Pakistan, over the conflict in Kashmir have had a positive effect on the ground with levels of violence dipping drastically in recent years.

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