OPERATION ASHWAMEDH: The Real Account of An Aircraft Hostage Rescue Operation Which Can Put Even Thriller Novels into Shame
It was 24 April, 1993. A Boeing 737 had 141 persons were on board – 126 adult passengers, 9 infants and 6 crew members. Flight IC427 took off from Delhi at 13:57 for Srinagar. Everything was fine until at 1443 hrs. a message was received by Air Traffic Control, Delhi that the plane had been hijacked and was heading for Kabul.
One of the passengers on board introduced himself as Syed Salauddin and claimed that he was carrying pistols and a hand grenade. He demanded that the flight be taken to Kabul. However, the Lahore Air Traffic Control refused to permit the plane to enter the Pakistani airspace, and the flight returned to India after circling over Lahore. Eventually, the plane landed at Amritsar, India at 15:20. There the hijacker kept the entire crew and passengers hostage and demanded refueling so that the aircraft may proceed to Kabul.
The Crisis Management Group (CMG) at the Cabinet Secretariat of India and the Central Committee at Delhi Airport responded to the situation. The Deputy Commissioner and the Senior Superintendent of Police of the Amritsar district were sent to the airport to negotiate with the hijacker. At 18:00, the Director General of Punjab Police arrived in Amritsar, and took charge of the negotiation process. The CMG advised the negotiating group at Amritsar to continue negotiations with a view to wear down the hijacker. However, the hijacker remained adamant on his demand, and even fired a warning shot which pierced through the body of the aircraft. Now the CMG decided to handle the crisis by different way. They decided to dispatch NSG commandos, India’s best hostage crisis operators of that time(back in that time Punjab SWAT was yet to be established). The operation was codenamed Operation Ashwamedh.
NSGs were first taken to Adampur near Amritsar and then they were dropped in Amritsar by helicopters.
OPERATION ASHWAMEDH – EARLY NSG PREPARATION
Meanwhile, the negotiators continued negotiation to buy time. But the crisis came at its most critical time at 23:00, when the hijacker threatened that he would blow up the aircraft if his demand was not met. Then the CMG directed the NSG commandos and the negotiators to storm the plane. Over the next two hours, the team assessed the ground situation and planned for the operation.
OPERATION ASHWAMEDH – NSG IN ACTION
At 01:00 on April 25, around 60 commandos of NSG’s 52 Special Action Group surrounded and stormed the plane. The hijacker was surprised by the sudden entry of the commandos into the plane.
According an account “All that is visible is a blur of black, the glint of metal and then two muffled cracks – shots from silencer-fitted machine pistols.” How the operation went, no clear account is present. However according to a news media, NSG, armed with Heckler & Koch MP-5 sub-machine-guns, Glock-17 Austrian pistols or the Swiss-designed Sig Sauer and poison-tipped knives, split into pairs and enter the plane through seven different entrance points, the doors and the cockpit. The team took the hijacker by complete surprise. The hijacker was so surprised by the quick action of NSG that even before he could react and fire, a commando shot at him with a silencer pistol.
The Operation Ashwamedh ended in five minutes, at 01:05, without any casualty or injury to any hostage or NSG Commandos or further damage to the aircraft. Time taken for the entire operation: a mere 12 seconds.
OPERATION ASHWAMEDH – AFTERMATH
“Surprise doesn’t mean that the terrorists don’t know we are coming. It is just that we choose the when, how and where. And it is with our chosen technique and weapon,” said Colonel V. K. Datta, who has been associated with the NSG since its inception in 1985, in 1993,to a news media. The hijacker was later identified as Jalaluddin alias Mohammed Yunus Shahm. He was handed over the local police. However, he succumbed to the injury while being shifted to a hospital. Two loaded 9 mm pistols were recovered from him. It was claimed that he was a member of terrorist group Hizbul Mujahideen, but the group denied responsibility.
Whenever the history will remind the act of valor by brave hearts, NSG will always find their place.