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Monday, 3 January, 2000, 07:46 GMT
Militant free to return to UK

Rideout, Croston and Partridge were kept at gunpoint for weeks

A Briton accused of kidnapping three of his countrymen in India is expected to return to the UK after the Indian Airlines hijackers secured his release from prison.

Hijack Special Report
Ahmad Omar Sayyed Sheikh was released on New Year's Eve as part of a deal by the Indian government to end the eight-day hostage ordeal, which was linked to the dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.

The Foreign Office said the 26-year-old east Londoner was likely to return to Britain, and perfectly entitled to do so.

"It is quite possible that Mr Sheikh will come back to this country where his family is," said a spokesman.

Mr Sheikh has been in prison in Delhi since 1994
"And as a full British national he has every right to return.

"He has not contacted us but obviously, if he was to contact us, and asked us for passport facilities, then provided he could prove who he was...we would issue him with a passport."

He added: "He has not been convicted of any offences. He has not even been brought to trial."

Mr Sheikh, who lived with his father in Wanstead, had been held in Delhi since 1994 on charges of kidnapping three Britons, Rhys Partridge, Paul Rideout and Miles Croston.

He was accused of doing so for Harkat-Ul-Ansar (HUA), a Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist organisation thought by India to be behind the kidnapping and murder of five Western tourists in Kashmir in 1995.

The hijackers fled the plane with Mr Sheikh
The three men, who were backpacking at the time, said they had been lured to a house near Delhi by an English-speaking student, where they were held for weeks.

They were released after a gun battle between the Indian police and their captors.

It was claimed that the kidnapper's intention was to swap the three for jailed militants demanding Kashmiri independence.

Mr Sheikh's family insisted at the time that he was innocent and said he had been unfairly targeted by Indian police.


But on Monday Mr Partridge's mother Pamela said the matter was an "outrage".

"All three came within a hair's breadth of being killed so they are disgusted as am I," she told The Times newspaper.

"They were always suspicious that this man had never been put on trial even though he has been in jail since 1994.

"He has got away with all he wanted and now how many other innocent families are going to suffer?"

The two other men freed were Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, chief commander of the rebel group Ul-Umar Mujahideen, and Pakistani religious leader Masood Azhar, jailed in India for their fight against Indian rule of the disputed Kashmir territory.

The whereabouts of the three is not yet known.

They left from the plane in southern Afghanistan with the five hijackers. India said they had fled to Pakistan, but Pakistan denied they had crossed the border.

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See also:
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
In pictures: The end of the hijack
31 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hostages recount hijack ordeal
28 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: A high profile militant group
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Chronology of a hijack
31 Dec 99 |  UK
Briton freed in hijack deal

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