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DATE=12/30/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=HIJACKING - KASHMIR - PROFILE NUMBER=5-45146 BYLINE=SCOTT ANGER DATELINE=ISLAMABAD CONTENT= VOICED AT: //Editors - Please adjust figures in the Intro concerning the number of people on board the plane and the number of people the hijackers want freed. Both figures are likely to change.// INTRO: Gunmen have threatened to kill all 155 passengers aboard a hijacked Indian airliner parked in Kandahar, Afghanistan, if the Indian government does not release a jailed religious leader and 35 Kashmiri freedom fighters. The hijackers have been suspected of being members of a militant Muslim group fighting in Kashmir because of their demands. As correspondent Scott Anger reports, the incident has focused attention on the conflict over the mostly Muslim region of Kashmir, which borders India and Pakistan. TEXT: In addition to the fighters, hijackers of the Indian Airlines plane have demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, a bearded Muslim scholar with alleged ties to a militant group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. Reports say Mr. Azhar first traveled to India in 1992 to unite guerrilla factions and form the Harkat-ul- Ansar group. The anti-Indian group changed its name to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen after the United States declared it a terrorist organization in 1998. Abdullah Muntazer, Secretary of Information for Lashker-e-Taiba, one of many other Muslim militant groups fighting in Kashmir, says Mr. Azhar had been publishing a magazine about the jihad - or holy war - being fought in the troubled region. ///Muntazer Act/// He went to Kashmir to cover the stories of the brutality of Indian forces in Kashmir. He was on a journalist visa there. Soon after his arrival, he was arrested. ///End Act/// India says Mr. Azhar was arrested in 1994, two years after slipping into India on a forged Portuguese passport. He is being held at a high-security jail near Jammu, Kashmir's winter capital. For more than a decade, India has been battling a bloody insurgency in Indian Kashmir by militant Islamic secessionists. Groups are demanding either outright independence or union with Islamic Pakistan, which controls a third of the Himalayan region. India controls the rest and has accused Pakistan of supporting the Islamic groups with men, weapons and training. But Pakistan strongly denies the allegation and says it only provides moral, political and diplomatic support to the independence movement. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir. Earlier this year, the two countries came close to a fourth war after Pakistan-backed fighters crossed into Indian Kashmir and engaged Indian troops for about two months near the town of Kargil. The clashes ended after Pakistan agreed to withdraw the fighters. The hijacking has opened old wounds between India and Pakistan. Indian media reports insinuate there is a possible Pakistani involvement with the hijackers. In response, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar, says it is perhaps the Indian government that has staged the hijacking to discredit Pakistan's new military government, which ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup October 12th. A spokesman for Pakistan's military government, Rashid Qureshi, expresses some sympathy for the Kashmir insurgency. He says the fight for independence can lead people to commit - what he calls -- barbaric acts such as hijacking and kidnapping. ///Qureshi Act/// I look at it this way. That a people who have been suppressed for so long, whose voice is not heard by the world, who are at the end of their wits and who are totally frustrated, now may just resort to such acts of terrorism like kidnapping or hijacking planes. If you corner a cat, it lashes back at you, otherwise it may be a calm and sweet kitten. ///End Act// The hijacking of the Indian airliner is not the first time violence has been used to try and free Mr. Azhar. In 1995, five foreigners trekking in the region were kidnapped by a group demanding the release of the Muslim scholar. When India refused, one of the hostages was killed, one escaped and the others are still missing and presumed dead. (SIGNED) NEB/SA/PLM 30-Dec-1999 05:56 AM EDT (30-Dec-1999 1056 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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