India Arrests Four Hijacking Suspects, Says Pakistan Involvement Proven

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - India claimed on Thursday to have made a "breakthrough" in its investigations into the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane with the arrest of four suspects.

The four -- two Pakistanis, a Nepali and an Indian -- had "provided the support base for the hijack operations," Home Affairs Minister Lal Krishna Advani told a press conference.

He said the four were activists of the Harkat-ul-Ansar organization, and identified them as Abdul Latif from Bombay, Pakistanis Mohammed Rehan and Mohammad Iqbal, and Yusuf Nepali from Nepal.

The Pakistan-based group is fighting for an Islamic state in Kashmir, two-thirds of which is controlled by mostly Hindu India. The State Department named Hurkat-ul-Ansar a terrorist group in 1997, and it subsequently changed its name to Harakat-ul-Mujheddin.

Advani said the arrests provided proof of Pakistan's involvement in the hijacking, and said the five hijackers - whom he also named - were all Pakistanis.

Pakistan repeated its earlier denial. "Pakistan has nothing to do with it," Foreign Office spokesman Tariq Altaf said. Altaf said Pakistan had been given no evidence to show the hijackers were Pakistanis.

"They [the Indians] should have shared information with us, they should have come to us and said here are the names. But these people have another agenda," he added.

Pakistani Islamic cleric Maulana Masood Azhar was one of the three militants released from Indian jails in return for the release of 155 hostages held aboard the aircraft in Afghanistan late last month. He said in Karachi on Thursday that the hijackers were Indian citizens from Kashmir.

He told a news conference that after the hijacking ended, the gunmen had told him: "You don't know us. We have never met. We are from India, and we respect you and admire you, but we cannot take off our masks."

The cleric, who was imprisoned in India since 1994, said the hijackers wept, embraced him, and said: "We have done this for the cause of Islam."

Then the men droveaway, and Masood Azhar said he returned to Pakistan.

In an earlier public speech from a Karachi mosque, Masood Azhar reportedly called on his followers to destroy India and the United States.