Hijack Ransom: Cash, Prisoners

indian airlines afghanistan hijack
In their first face-to-face talks with Indian officials, the hijackers of an Indian Airlines jetliner parked in Afghanistan on Tuesday demanded $200 million and the release of 35 jailed militants in return for the and end to the five-day-old hostage standoff.

Earlier Tuesday, the hijackers refused a call to release women and children and gave no indication that any of their 160 hostages would be immediately released from the plane. Indian negotiators said they feared talks to end the standoff could drag on.

The plane's engines had been shut down, cutting radio communications between the hijackers and the negotiators, so the talks resumed early Tuesday by walkie-talkie. Then, a masked hijacker walked off the plane to meet Indian negotiators face-to-face.

Earlier, hijackers had demanded that India release several Kashmiri fighters and Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani religious leader.

Azhar, who traveled to India in 1992 to help the militants, was arrested in 1994 and is being held in a high security jail in Indian-held Kashmir, where Muslim militants have been waging a guerrilla war of attrition to break away from India.

A Muslim cleric, Azhar was the ideologue of the Harkat ul-Ansar, an Islamic militant group that is classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. The group, which advocates a strict interpretation of the Koran, is believed to have its training camps in Afghanistan.

Despite vows that it would not cave in to terrorist demands, the Indian government was under heavy pressure from relatives and supporters of the hostages to free Azhar and do whatever necessary to avoid further casualties.

Once India announced that it would send negotiators, the hijackers suspended a Monday deadline for their demands to be met, but warned they would start executing passengers if the talks broke down.

Indian officials have said there are five hijackers. Armed with grenades, pistols and knives, they seized Flight 814 some 40 minutes after it took off from Katmandu, Nepal, on a scheduled flight to New Delhi on Friday. The plane made stops in India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates before landing in Afghanistan on Saturday.

At least one hostage has been killed. Passengers who have been released said the hijackers stabbed Rippan Katyal after he disobeyed their orders not to look at them.

One passenger, an Indian identified as Anil Khurana, was released on Sunday. Khurana, a diabetic, was the first person released since the captors freed 27 hostages and unloaded Katyal's body during a stopover in the United Arab Emirates.

The plane was carrying 178 passengers and 11 crewmembers when it took off Friday. The passengers included 150 Indians, eight Nepalese, one Canadian, one American, four Swiss, four Spaniards, one Belgian, one Japanese, one Australian, two French and one Italian. Four passengers were not listed by nationality.