In a significant breakthrough, the Jammu & Kashmir Police on Thursday arrested Mehrajuddin Wani alias Javed Dand — one of the terrorists who was involved in arranging logistics, including weapons and fake travel documents, for the hijackers of the Indian Airlines IC-814 to Kandahar in December, 1999 — from Kishtwar district.
Mehrajuddin was part of one of the first groups of terrorists who launched militancy in the state in 1987 and later crossed over to PoK for arms training in 1989. Being an active member of Harkat-ul-Ansar, he was involved in a number of terror attacks in the Valley before shifting his base to Nepal, where he proved to be a key logistics person for the IC-814 hijackers.
Intelligence sources called him a big catch, and Mehrajuddin appeared to conform to that billing when he, according to J&K Police, disclosed that the diplomat of an unspecified embassy (in Nepal) was closely involved in the 1999 hijacking plot. "We are investigating all this," said Dilbagh Singh, IGP of Jammu.
Intelligence sources in Delhi said that he could shed new light on hijackers, who had killed one young Indian traveler, Rupen Katyal, and how they managed to pull off the audacious hijacking.
The hijacking, in which the then Taliban regime had colluded, resulted in the release of three terrorists, including Maulana Masood Azhar, Mustaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Saeed Sheikh, in exchange of hostages of the ill-fated aircraft. Azhar had set up one of deadliest terror outfits Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), while Sheikh ended up kidnapping and murdering the Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002.
The hijacking, which dealt a heavy blow to BJP's "tough-on-terror" credentials, embittered the already strained ties with Pakistan that allowed Azhar and Sheikh to roam in full public view and carry on with their anti-India activities.
The IGP said that police, acting on specific intelligence inputs, launched a search operation and arrested Mehrajuddin — a close associate of United Jihad Council chief Syed Salahuddin as well as underworld don Dawood Ibrahim - on Jammu-Srinagar highway while he was travelling from Nepal to Kashmir on Wednesday night.
"We suspect that his services have been used (in the hijacking). He was there (in Nepal) when the aircraft was hijacked in 1999," Singh said. Mehrajuddin, undergoing treatment for brain tumour in Nepal, was on his way to Sopore to meet his family members and relatives.
Police suspect that Mehrajuddin - once an ordinary tailor at Nigeen Bagh in Sopore — has strong links with Pakistan's ISI, and is also believed to be engaged in raising funds for terror activities. He is also suspected to be involved in smuggling weapons, ammunition and fake currency into India with the help of the diplomat.
Asked whether his name was mentioned in the 'challan' produced by the CBI in the Kandahar hijack case, Singh said, "His name does not figure in the challan. He has acquired half a dozen fake names for various operations. So the investigations are on."
The CBI, which probed the IC-814 hijacking case, is sending a team to Srinagar to verify all the claims made by J&K Police. Mehrajuddin had been out of radar for long, and his name did not appear in any of the central wanted lists.
Singh said Mehrajuddin was first arrested in 1993 and lodged in Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu. The officer said that he came in contact with Salahuddin after he was released from jail, and continued working with Muslim Mujahideen.
"He confessed that he knew Bilal Ahmad and Javid Guru, an accused in Lajpat Nagar blast," Singh said, adding that his direct involvement in this incident is yet to be established.
Mehrajuddin married in Nepal, and has his family is settled there. "He occasionally used to visit his parents in Nigeen bagh in Sopore. His elder brother works with Hindustan Petroleum," family sources said.
During interrogation, he has given details about his relations with Salahuddin, Anees Ibrahim and Dawood Ibrahim, who figure in the list of 20 most wanted people India has given to Pakistan, police said.
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