This Article is From Sep 13, 2012

Kandahar hijack suspect, Mehrajuddin Dand, arrested in Jammu and Kashmir

Srinagar: One of India's most wanted, 48-year-old Mehrajuddin Dand, is now in police custody. His arrest comes 13 years after the audacious Kandahar IC-814 hijack, for which he is suspected to have provided logistical support. The militant, the Jammu and Kashmir Police say, is a major catch; he had been operating for the last 20 years.

"All this requires confirmation, if they (police) have arrested then I applaud them. Let me confirm it and then I shall come back before you again," Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said.

Dand goes by the alias Javed and is also alleged to have been involved in several blasts across the country. He had been living in Nepal for many years now, the police said, and had married a Hindu girl there. He was arrested in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir, while returning from Nepal.

Meanwhile, Mehrajuddin's family insist he is innocent and that he was coming to Kashmir to get treatment for a brain tumour. They allege he was whisked away by unknown people near Jammu on Sunday.

"He contacted us on phone on September 9 saying he was ill and was coming to join us. Since then we have not heard from him and nobody has informed us about his whereabouts. We checked with the driver and he told us that once they reached Katra, they were stopped he was taken away by some unidentified people. He was living in Nepal for last 15 years," said Dand's brother Abdul Rashid who lives in Kashmir's Sopore town.

The police claim that Dand provided fake travel documents to the five Pakistani men who hijacked the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 on December 24, 1999. The plane, with mostly Indians on board, had taken off from Nepal that Christmas Eve evening and just as it entered Indian airspace, the gunmen hijacked the flight to Kandahar in Afghanistan after fuelling stops at Amritsar and Lahore in Pakistan and a stop at Dubai were they freed some passengers. The hijackers killed one man in the seven-day stand-off that ended controversially with the Indian government releasing three notorious terrorist leaders for the safe return of the rest of the passengers. Among those freed by India were Maulana Masood Azhar who later founded the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is accused of later killing American journalist Daniel Pearl.

The police say Dand is suspected to be a key man of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and has been an ISI operative in Nepal for the last 15 year. They also say that he is an important fund raiser for terror activities. He is believed to have been among the first group of Hizbul Mujahideen that crossed over into Pakistan for training and is said to be the longest surviving militant in the state. Dand is believed to have been a key lieutenant of United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin for many years before becoming an independent operative who coordinated between various terror groups, the police said. He is also believed to have close links with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim.

Dand is one of the longest surviving militant in Kashmir who is suspected to have been an ISI operative for last 25 years. He was arrested in 1990 and jailed for two years but after his release he fled from Kashmir and stayed in Delhi and Bangalore, and finally shifted his base to Kathmandu in Nepal in 1996 where he is accused to have been running militant finances and coordinating their activities. Police sources say their undercover operatives were in touch with Dand for last one month and lured him to Kishtwar under the pretext of reorganising militancy in Kashmir.

Security agencies say his arrest could provide critical details about the audacious Kandahar IC-814 hijack and the missing links in several other militant attacks in the country, including the 1996 Lajpat Nagar blasts in New Delhi in which 13 people were killed.