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The hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814

New Delhi

It was one of the most dramatic hostage crisis the country has ever seen before 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. India was celebrating its last Christmas eve of the Millennium when the news came in of the hijacking.

Indian Airlines flight IC-814 on its way back to Delhi from Kathmandu, half an hour after take off on December 24, 1999, was taken over by five Pakistani hijackers with 180 passengers and crew on board.

The plane entered Pakistani airspace, but was not allowed to land. It touched down in Amritsar with only ten minutes of fuel left when the pilot told the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) that four passengers have been killed. They then were forced to take off from Amritsar.

India spoke to Pakistan, and Lahore allowed the plane to land and refuel, but former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf didn't stop it from taking off for Afghanistan. After refuelling in Lahore the plane headed for Dubai. It was in Dubai that 27 hostages and the body of Rupen Katyal were released from the plane after which the hijacked plane left for Kandahar International Airport. In Kandahar the passengers spent the next 6 days inside the aircraft.

The hijack shook prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's NDA government which was confronted with one of its toughest choices - whether or not to release dreaded terrorists in exchange for the hostages. On the first deadline set by hijackers, an Indian delegation carrying negotiators, doctors and engineers arrived in Kandahar and began talks with the gunmen. But terrorists demanded 36 more militants along with $200 million.

Unsavory negotiations with the Taliban terrified relatives who demonstrated outside Race Course Road pressuring the NDA, thus, narrowing its options.

"There has been an agreement for the release of all the hostages in exchange of three militants namely Maulana Masood Azhar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Mushtaq Zargar," said former national security advisor (NSA) Brajesh Mishra.

The release came with its share of controversy but the fact they were escorted to Kandahar personally by the then foreign minister Jaswant Singh has continued to haunt the BJP for the last decade.

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