SRINAGAR, India – Indian police have arrested one of the longest-surviving rebel commanders in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, authorities said Thursday.
Indian Kashmir's police chief, Ashok Prasad, told The Associated Press that Merajuddin Wani had been operating from neighboring Nepal for nearly 15 years. He said Wani was involved in espionage against India and also channeled finances to half a dozen militant groups active in the disputed Himalayan area.
Prasad said Wani has also claimed to have been associated with five militants who hijacked an Indian Airlines plane flying from Nepal's capital, Katmandu, to New Delhi in 1999. But Prasad said his role in that attack was unclear and was being investigated.
There was no independent verification of the police claims.
Wani was arrested Wednesday in the remote Kishtwar region of Indian Kashmir, Prasad said. As of Thursday, there had been no comment from any rebel group on his arrest.
Wani's brother, Abdul Rashid, told New Delhi Television that Wani was innocent and that his family had called him back from Nepal to get treatment for a brain tumor. It was not immediately known what Wani was doing in Nepal.
Militants have been fighting since 1989 against Indian rule in Kashmir, but incidents of violence have largely been suppressed by Indian forces. However, public opposition to Indian rule remains deep and in recent years has found expression in street protests marked by youths hurling stones at security forces.
About 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising and subsequent crackdowns.
Prasad said that Wani's arrest was significant but that his actual role in the hijacking was being verified with federal intelligence and investigation agencies.
The hijackers flew the aircraft to the Afghan city of Kandahar, stopping off in Lahore, Pakistan, and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The incident ended after an eight-day standoff when India released three militants in exchange for 155 hostages.