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Jill McGivering in Dehli
"Home at last"
 real 28k

Adam Brookes in Afganistan
"Eight days on, one man dead and the hijack is over"
 real 28k

Kate Clark reports from Kandahar
"Hostages said hijackers killed one of their own gang"
 real 28k

Friday, 31 December, 1999, 17:37 GMT
Hijack hostages welcomed home

Bus taking passengers Passengers wave as they leave the plane in Kandahar

The hostages from the hijacked Indian Airlines plane have arrived back in Delhi after the end of their eight-day ordeal in Afghanistan.

Hijack Special Report
The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was at Delhi's international airport to receive the nearly 160 passengers and crew who were hijacked on 24 December and flown to southern Afghanistan.

Dozens of doctors were on standby and a fleet of ambulances waited outside.

End of a crisis
India announces release of three militants
Indian foreign minister flies with militants to Kandahar
Hijackers leave plane with Taleban official
Hostages taken off plane
Hostages flown back to India
Taleban say hijackers have 10 hours to leave
As the passengers emerged, a large crowd began applauding and cheering.

Some of the returning hostages kissed the ground, while others touched it.

"I experienced death for seven days. I never thought I would come back," said one passenger, Neelam Champa.

The hijack ended earlier on Friday after a deal between the Indian Government and the hijackers.

The hostages left the plane at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan - as did the five hijackers - after India agreed to free three Kashmiri militants from prison.

The hijackers, who climbed down from the plane with their weapons, sped off from the airport in waiting vehicles.

Reports from Pakistani Kashmir say they are expected to arrive in the territory in the next few days.

Hijackers leaving plane The hijackers take a Taleban official as a guarantee
They have been refused asylum by the Taleban and have been given 10 hours to leave Afghanistan.

Some of the released passengers say that the hijackers killed a member of their own gang during the hostage crisis, although that has not been confirmed by officials.

Defending releases

In Delhi, the government has been defending its decision to release the militants.

The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, said in a New Year's broadcast that the government had been able to scale down the hijackers' demands considerably.

"As you are aware, the hijackers had demanded the release of 36 terrorists. We were able to substantially scale down their demand," he said.

"We were able to substantially scale down their demands"
Atal Behari Vajpayee
He said that in dealing with the hijackers, New Delhi had been guided by concern for the safety of the passengers, the crew, and the long-term, overall interests of the country.

Mr Vajpayee also called for international action to stamp out such acts.

"Surely the time has come for the world to confront this evil, to act in concert and crush it," he said.

"India shall join hands across nations to rid the world of this crime against humanity."

Jailed cleric free

India said that the freed militants included Maulana Masood Azhar, the Pakistani cleric who had been at the top of the list of jailed activists the hijackers wanted released.

The other two were named as Ahmed Omar Sayed Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar.

All three have connections to a militant movement that seeks to separate Kashmir from India. They were among 36 militants who the five hijackers had demanded freed.

The end of the hijack has been welcomed in other countries - including India's long-time rival, Pakistan.

A statement issued by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said the end of the crisis was "a matter of satisfaction to the government of Pakistan".

"We have received this news with a sense of relief that the ordeal of the innocent hostages has finally come to an end," it added.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hostages recount hijack ordeal
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Indian hijack drama over
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
In pictures: The end of the hijack
30 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: Testing time for Taleban
29 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijackers drop two demands
29 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: India warms to the Taleban
28 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: A high profile militant group
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Chronology of a hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar

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