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The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones in Kandahar
"It was the type of reception the Taleban had promised"
 real 28k

Kate Clark reports from Kabul
"One crew member said the pilots' escape probably saved the hostages' lives
 real 28k

Crew member and former hostage Toraillaia Alami
"I have never wanted to stay in another country"
 real 28k

Monday, 14 February, 2000, 20:48 GMT
Hijack victims speak of ordeal

passengers The passengers returned to a warm welcome

Former hostages from the hijacked Afghan airliner have been talking about their ordeal following their return to their homeland.

Some of the 73 passengers and crew - who arrived back in Afghanistan from Britain on Monday - said they had been repeatedly hit and threatened.

hug Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil (right) embraces a returning hostage
They denounced the hijackers, and said some of the other passengers had been friends and relatives involved in a plot to claim political asylum in the West.

The former hostages were given a hero's welcome when their flight touched down in the southern city of Kandahar.

From Kandahar, they were flown on to the Afghan capital, Kabul, to be reunited with their families.

The United Nations is paying for the transport back to their towns and villages.

'Very bad people'

Crew member Toraillaia Alami described the armed hijackers as "very bad people".

Hijack timetable
Feb 6-Plane hijacked
Feb 7-Plane lands in London
Feb 10-Hijack over
Feb 14 Hostages fly home
He added: "They had all the members of the crew, and also the passengers, they tied our hands and head."

Mr Alami said he had never been tempted to seek political asylum in the UK, as the majority of the other freed hostages had done.

"I am very happy to return to Afghanistan and my home," he said.

"I have never wanted to stay in another country."

Warm welcome

Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil was on the airport tarmac at Kandahar to greet the homecomers.

They were given a warm welcome, with gifts of turbans and embroidery, and a hot meal provided inside the airport building.

The Taleban regime says all those returning will be treated well
There were few relatives at the airport, because of its distance from the capital.

Kandahar is two days' drive from Kabul, where the plane set off, and four days from its intended destination, the town of Mazaar-e-Sharif.

A BBC correspondent in Kabul says some relatives do not know who is coming home - whether their family members were on the flight from Britain, if they have asked for political asylum, or if they are the alleged hijackers.

The hijack itself ended peacefully when the hijackers gave themselves up to police at Stansted Airport, outside London, on Thursday.

Of the more than 80 people on the original flight who remain in the UK, British police have charged 13 men - Afghan nationals between the ages of 18 and 36 - with hijacking offences.

They were all remanded in custody after appearing in court in Southend, Essex.

Nine others who were arrested will not face charges.

At first, only 17 of the former hostages said they wanted to return home but after talking to immigration officials more decided to leave.

All those flying home are reported to have signed forms stating that they were happy to return to Afghanistan.

Asylum seekers

More than 70 former hostages remain at a fire service college in Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, where they are being questioned by immigration officials.

hostages Homeward bound: Two of the fomer hostages on their way to Brize Norton
The UK Government has denied passengers are being put under pressure not to claim asylum. Officially, 74 have requested asylum in the UK so far.

An interpreter who worked with the Afghan hijack victims has accused the British Immigration Service of pressurising many of them into going home.

David Fazel told Channel 4 News that only around 20 of the 73 who have so far returned to Afghanistan had gone entirely voluntarily.

He said: "Immigration officers were told that we must not act friendly to these people and they must not, under any circumstances, think that we are friendly.

"The people were intimidated because there was no international organisation on that night, nobody present on their side."

However, UK Immigration Minister Barbara Roche said: "Everybody who indicated a wish to return was seen by an independent organisation, the International Office of Migration - a widely respected international organisation."


UK Home Secretary Jack Straw has admitted he faces a worrying dilemma.

"On the one hand we have great sympathy for those who have a genuine and well founded fear of persecution arising from political instability in the state from which they come," he said.

"On the other hand, we cannot possibly be in a circumstance where it appears that we are encouraging the international terrorist crime of hijack."

Britain has approached Pakistan and Russia, which have large Afghan communities, to take in some of the former hostages.

Afghanistan's Taleban rulers have warned the UK that granting asylum will encourage terrorism.

The hijacking began a week ago, when an Ariana Airlines Boeing 727 on an internal Afghanistan flight was forced to divert to London.

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See also:
14 Feb 00 |  UK
Hijack suspects named
14 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Pressure on Straw over asylum seekers
13 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Afghan boy executes father's killer
12 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Taleban: Asylum seekers welcome
11 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Afghan rights under spotlight
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Hijack timetable

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