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Freed Militant Surfaces
'Supporters listen to Kashmiri militant'
Threatens Death to India, America

Supporters of a radical militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir listen to a speech by their leader, Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar, freed by India in a deal to end a plane hijacking, called for the destruction of India and the United States. (Zia Mazhar/AP Photo)


By Zahid Hussain
The Associated Press
K A R A C H I, Pakistan, Jan. 5 — One of three Kashmiri militants freed as part of a deal to end the Indian Airlines hijacking called on his followers today to destroy India and the United States.
     Encircled by men dressed in camouflage-colored clothes and brandishing automatic rifles, Maulana Masood Azhar gave a fiery speech to 10,000 supporters who gathered in front of a central Karachi mosque.
     “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India,” Azhar said, vowing to liberate the embattled Kashmir region from Indian rule.

Death!
The crowd responded by screaming, “God is Great!” and “Death to India, Death to the United States.”
     Azhar’s arrival in Karachi from neighboring Afghanistan, where the eight-day hijacking ended Friday, was unannounced.
     Though the Pakistani government earlier said that the hijackers would be arrested if they stepped foot in their country, there was no effort to detain Azhar or to bar him from speaking today.
     “I have come back and I will not rest in peace until Kashmir is liberated,” Azhar told the crowd, many of them members of his militant group, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen. The group is considered one of the most radical groups fighting in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
     Armed with grenades, pistols and knives, five hijackers seized Flight 814 some 40 minutes after it took off from Katmandu, Nepal, on a scheduled flight to New Delhi on Dec. 24. The hijacked plane made stops in India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates before landing in Afghanistan.
     To secure the release of the 155 hostages, India agreed to release Azhar, along with two other jailed Kashmiri militants.

Others Remain Hidden
The whereabouts of the other two — Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, an Indian Kashmiri, and Ahmed Umar Saeed Sheikh, a Pakistani-born British citizen — was not clear today.
     Azhar, his head wrapped in a checkered scarf, said the five hijackers were all Indian Kashmiris. He said they had returned to Kashmir, the disputed territory divided between India and Pakistan.
     “They are preparing for their next assault,” he said, without elaborating.
     When the speech ended several bodyguards, with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, whisked Azhar into a truck and sped off.

Facing Arrest
Pakistan said after the hijacking that its border security was put on alert and the hijackers would be arrested if found, a difficult task given the length of the border and the multitude of access points from Afghanistan.
     The hijackers have not been seen since they left the airport in southern Afghanistan. They were given 10 hours by Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban to leave the country.
     The three militants are Kashmiri activists opposed to Indian rule in Kashmir, which has been the source of decades of conflict. Both countries lay claim to the entire territory.
     Azhar and Sheikh had been in Indian jails since 1994, although neither had reportedly been formally charged. Azhar, a Pakistani Islamic cleric and a radical ideologue was jailed for trying to unite several of the Kashmiri rebel groups.
     Pakistan previously said Azhar, whose father is a retired school teacher from Punjab province, would be allowed to return to his homeland because he did not face any charges at home.

Trading Barbs
Since the hijacking ended, India and Pakistan have exchanged bitter accusations. India says Pakistan orchestrated the drama, a charge vehemently denied by Pakistan.
     Pakistan’s military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday said India was launching a propaganda campaign against his country to deflect criticism over how New Delhi handled negotiations with the hostage-takers.
     In Islamabad, Pakistani officials demanded that India make public information it claims to have on the hijackers’ identities and alleged Pakistani involvement.
     “Fabrication of allegations without a shred of evidence is reprehensible,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.
     India’s home minister, L.K. Advani, said India has “irrefutable evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in cross-border terrorism and in this particular hijacking.” He did not offer details.

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Reference

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