TITLE=HIJACKING - KASHMIR - PROFILE
//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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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)
30-Dec-1999 05:56 AM EDT (30-Dec-1999 1056 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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