`Kandahar hijack suspect has brain tumour`

Top militant commander Mehrajuddin Dand, wanted for his involvement in the 1999 hijacking of flight IC-814 to Kandahar, has been arrested.

Zeenews Bureau

Jammu: Hours after the Jammu and Kashmir police announced the arrest of top militant commander Mehrajuddin Dand alias Javed, his brother on Thursday alleged that the terror suspect is in the last stages of life.

A news agency has quoted Mehrajuddin’s brother as saying that the top militant commander, wanted for his involvement in the 1999 hijacking of flight IC-814 to Kandahar and other terror attacks, has “tumour in brain”.

Abdul Rashid Dand, the elder brother of Mehrajuddin Dand, said that his younger brother was working as a businessman in Nepal and his family has no knowledge about his subversive activities.

Abdul Rashid said that Mehrajuddin contacted him on September 09 and since then his whereabouts were not known to the family.

"He contacted us on phone on September 09 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," Abdul Rashid said.

Mehrajuddin was first arrested by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Sopore in 1991.

"He was booked under the Public Safety Act in 1991 and lodged in the Kotbalwal jail in Jammu.”

"After his release, we convinced him to lead a normal life. He shifted to Nepal where he married a local girl and did business there.”

"Of late, he has been facing serious health problems, probably a brain tumour, for which he was getting treatment in Nepal. He informed us that he was not getting any relief from his treatment and therefore wanted to join us so that we could take care of him," he said.

The family of the arrested guerrilla live in the Krankshavan colony of Sopore.

On Mehrajuddin`s involvement in the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 to Kandahar, Abdul Rashid said he had no knowledge about it.

"I don`t know anything about his alleged involvement in the hijack," the brother said.

Mehrajuddin has been arrested from an undisclosed location on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, a senior police official said on Thursday.

In what is described as a major catch, Mehrajuddin, suspected to be involved in many militancy related incidents in India and abroad and amongst the oldest surviving militants, was arrested on Wednesday night.

Mehrajuddin was nabbed after police got inputs that he was on his way back from Nepal and was on his way to Kashmir valley from the national highway connecting Jammu and Srinagar.

It is believed that he was going to Kashmir as militancy was declining and needed to be revived. "His arrest is a severe blow to militancy and efforts to revive it," a police official said.

Mehrajuddin, who belongs to the north Kashmir town of Sopore, joined militancy in 1990. "He participated in action and wielded gun up to 1995 after which he joined elite ranks, which involved planning, arranging logistics and handling militant activities," the official said.

After 1995, he was mostly operating from Pakistan and Nepal. Police describe him as the most wanted and oldest militant, "involved in a number of militancy related activities both in India and outside".

"Mehrajuddin was main person who arranged for all the logistics for carrying out the Kandahar hijacking. He facilitated the entry of five masked men into the aircraft with guns, knives and grenades and arranged finances for all this," an official said.

Mehrajuddin was taking care of planning and finances. "He was like the top boss giving directions and arranging logistics."

On December 24, 1999, IC-814, with 176 passengers on board, was hijacked by five Pakistani militants and forced to land in three different airports -- Amritsar, Lahore, and Dubai - before being taken to Kandahar, the bastion of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In Dubai, Rupin Katyal, one of the passengers, was fatally stabbed by the hijackers.

The aircraft had to spend a week on the tarmac in Kandahar before terrorists were swapped for the hostages.

(With Agency inputs)