Thursday, December 25, 2008



( December 24,2008, marked the ninth anniversary of the hijacking of an Indian Airlines (IAC) plane from Kathmandu to Kandahar by a group of hijackers of Pakistan's Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM). In this connection, annexed are extracts regarding hijackings in India from the chapter on Aviation Terrorism in my recently-released book titled "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" published by the Lancer Publishers of Delhi ( ) (25-12-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )



Since hijacking of Indian planes started in January, 1971, when two members of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) hijacked a plane to Lahore and blew it up with explosives given by the ISI at Lahore after releasing the passengers and crew, there have been 13 hijackings--all of Indian Airlines aircraft. During the training of terrorists, the ISI instructs them to avoid Air India planes lest international concern be aroused due to the presence of a large number of foreign passengers.

Three of these hijackings took place in the 1970s, of which one by Kashmiri extremists was sponsored by the ISI, while the other two were personally-motivated.

There were five hijackings in the 1980s--three of them in 1982--all by Sikh extremists backed by the ISI.

There were five in the 1990s---four of them in 1993, all personally-motivated, and the fifth, of IC- 814, in 1999 was by an international Islamic jihadi organisation backed by the ISI.

Thus, of the 13 hijackings, seven were by ISI-trained organisations---- five by Sikh extremists, all India-based, one by Kashmiri extremists, again India-based, and the seventh by a Pakistan-based international Islamic jihadi organisation.
All these hijackings took place when the military was in power--five under Zia-ul-Haq and one each under Yahya Khan and Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

After a series of five hijackings in quick succession by Sikh terrorists between 1981 and 1984, India managed to get clinching evidence of ISI involvement in 1984 in the form of a West German report that the pistol given to the hijackers of August 24,1984, at Lahore by the ISI was part of a consignment supplied to the Pakistan Government by the West German manufacturers.

This resulted in a severe warning to Pakistan by Washington and a total discontinuance by the ISI of the use of hijacking as a weapon against India for 15 years till the post-Kargil hijacking on December 24,1999, after Gen. Musharraf seized power on October 12.
• This was the first hijacking of an Indian plane by a Pakistan-based international Islamic jihadi organisation, namely the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), previously known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar, which was declared by the US under its laws as an international terrorist organisation in October, 1997, and which, according to the annual reports of the Counter-Terrorism Division of the US State Department, is a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front For Jihad Against the US and Israel and a signatory of his fatwa against US and Israeli nationals.

• This was the second hijacking in the world by an Islamic fundamentalist organisation of Afghan-war vintage. The first was the hijacking of an Air France flight from Algiers by four terrorists of the Armed Islamic Group of Algeria on December 24,1994.The French terminated the hijacking at Marseille by killing all the hijackers.

• This was the first hijacking in India in which the hijackers intentionally and brutally killed one of the passengers in order to intimidate the pilot. In the past hijackings, the terrorists had avoided ill-treating the passengers. In the Air France hijacking too, the Algerian terrorists of Afghan war-vintage had intentionally killed three passengers.

• This was the second largest terrorist team (five hijackers) to have hijacked an aircraft anywhere in the world. The terrorist team, which hijacked the Air France flight to Entebbe in 1976, had ultimately seven hijackers, but only four of them had flown by the aircraft and the remaining had joined the team after the aircraft landed at Entebbe. Six terrorists of the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) had hijacked an Olympic Airlines flight from Athens to Beirut, on July 22,1970. The Greek authorities accepted the demand of the hijackers for the release of seven terrorists. A mixed group of five Palestinian and Japanese terrorists hijacked a Japanese Airways flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo on July 20, 1973. The terrorists blew up the plane at Tripoli in Libya after releasing the passengers. All other hijackings of the world involved between one and four hijackers, most of them only one. When there is only one hijacker, he would generally be in the cockpit. Danger to the passengers from a commando intervention is the least, unless the lone hijacker has explosives. When there are two hijackers, the danger is more, but still manageable since the second hijacker would generally be near the front door, which reduces the danger of deaths of passengers in cross fire. If there are three hijackers, one each would be at the front and rear doors, increasing the risk of cross-fire deaths. The maximum vulnerability of the passengers arises when there are more than three hijackers, with one or more of them stationed in the middle.

• This was the sixth longest hijacking since 1948 after those of the El Al by the PFLP on July 23, 1968 (40 days), the Air France (Entebbe) by Palestinian and German terrorists on June 27,1976 (8 days), the Pakistan International Airways by the Al Zulfiquar on March 2,1981 (13 days), the TWA by a Shia group on June 14,1985 (18 days), and the Kuwait Airways by a Shia group on April 5,1988 (18 days).

• This was the sixth major hijacking since 1948 in which the targeted Government conceded the demands of the hijackers, wholly or in part. The others were: the release of seven convicted Palestinian terrorists by the Greek authorities after the hijacking of an Olympic Airways flight on July 22,1970;the release of seven Arab terrorists mprisoned in the UK, West Germany and Switzerland after the hijacking of three flights of the Pan-Am, TWA and Swissair by the PFLP on September 6,1970; the release by West Germany of the Arab terrorists arrested for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics after the hijacking of a Lufthansa aircraft on October 29, 1972, by Al Fatah; the release of four Arab terrorists arrested for acts of terrorism in Cyprus after the hijacking of a KLM plane on November 25,1973; and the release of nearly 30 political prisoners by the Zia-ul-Haq regime after the hijacking of a PIA aircraft by the Al Zulfiquar on March 2,1981. These were the publicly-admitted instances of conceding the hijackers' demands. There have been other unadmitted instances.


The handling of hijackings has the preventive and crisis management aspects. Of all terrorism-related offences, plane hijacking is the easiest to prevent through thorough physical security at the airport. The prevention drill involves evaluation of the psychological profile of the passenger at the time of his checking-in through carefully-framed questions; x-ray of the checked- in baggage and, if necessary, their identification by the passenger before they are loaded; X-Ray of hand baggage; door-frame metal detector tests of passengers; their personal search; and ladder point checking by the airline staff to neutralise dangers due to negligence of the airport security staff or their complicity with the hijackers.

If this security drill is strictly followed, chances of a hijacking could be reduced by 90 per cent. There could still be a 10 per cent threat due to the hijackers somehow managing to take arms inside due to the negligence or complicity of the airport as well as the airline security staff or their intimidating the pilot by pretending to be armed, even though they may not have arms.

To eliminate even this 10 per cent possibility of a hijacking, many airlines have well-trained security staff travelling on each flight under the cover of either passengers or cabin crew members. The effectiveness of these in-flight security officers depends on the deniability of their presence. For in-flight security duties, the El Al of Israel takes serving and retired officers of the Shin Bet, the Israeli equivalent of our Intelligence Bureau, and Ya'ma'm, the Israeli equivalent of our National Security Guards. Shin Bet officers under the cover of airline staff are also attached to the traffic counter at the airport to scrutinise the travel documents of the passengers and study their psychological profile. Those responsible for in-flight security duties are issued with weapons with specially-designed low-intensity, low-impact bullets, which would enter the human body, but not exit. To prevent damage to the aircraft in cross-fire, the fuselage is armour-plated. They are also given well-concealable transmitting sets to discreetly transmit to the ground all the happenings in the cabin if the plane is hijacked. The plane has concealed cameras in the cockpit, cabin and toilets. These security measures have ensured 100 per cent security of El Al flights. While El Al's airport and off-airport facilities have been subject to terrorist attacks, an El Al flight was successfully hijacked only once in 1968.


The crisis management drill comes into force if an aircraft is hijacked due to a failure of preventive measures. The drill deals with the management of the relatives, the media, the aircraft and the hijackers, preparation of the groundwork for commando intervention, if it becomes necessary and, has operational, psychological and political aspects.

The operational aspect focusses on ensuring that the aircraft remains in an airport of our territory, if possible, or otherwise, in an airport of a friendly country and does not go to an airport in a hostile country and collection of intelligence and other inputs needed for commando intervention.
The psychological aspect focusses on keeping up the morale of the relatives of the passengers, encouraging self-restraint in media coverage till the hijacking is terminated and keeping the hijackers engaged in negotiations in order to persuade them to give up the hijacking, if possible, and give time to the commandos to prepare themselves for intervention, if necessary.

The political aspect relates to winning the co-operation of other countries and our own political parties in terminating the hijacking.

The hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar in December,1999, brought to light the following serious deficiencies in our national security management (NSM):
• The failure of the intelligence and counter-intelligence machinery to detect the presence and activities of the HUM (Harkat-ul-Mujahideen)hijackers in Mumbai since November 5,1999.

• The failure of the Govt. of India and the Indian Airlines security set-ups to ensure an effective second line of security at the Kathmandu airport, knowing fully well the security vaccum there.

• The failure of the crisis management group to have the plane grounded at Amritsar, when it first landed there.

• The failure of the Govt. of India to persuade the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities to have the plane detained at Dubai, as they did with the 1984 hijacking of an IA plane by the Sikh extremists.

• The delay in starting the negotiations at Kandahar, knowing fully well that once we let the plane reach hostile territory in Kandahar, we had no other option, but to negotiate.

• The total lack of coherence and professionalism in the handling of the crisis by the crisis management groups at the political and professional levels.