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    A man accused of kidnapping, who was released in the deal to end the Indian airline hijacking, can return to the UK, the Foreign Office says.

    Islamic militant Ahmad Omar Sayyed Sheikh, 26, from east London, was freed on New Year's Eve at the end of the eight-day hijacking and will be able to claim consular help in re-entering the country.

    He had been held in Delhi since 1994 on charges of kidnapping three Britons, Rhys Patridge, Paul Rideout and Miles Croston, on the orders of Harkat-Ul-Ansar, (HUA) a Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist organisation.

    The three, who were backpacking at the time, alleged 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 men for jailed militants demanding Kashmiri independence.

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

    A Foreign Office spokesman said that Sheikh had the right to return to the UK.

    He said: "This man is a British national. 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, then obviously, we would issue him with a passport."

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

    Sheikh was freed following the hijacking along with Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, chief commander of the rebel group Ul-Umar Mujahideen, and Pakistani religious leader Masood Azhar.


    Maybe we will now get postings stating "In the name of Christianity"

    [This message has been edited by ehsan (edited January 03, 2000).]

    Ex-public schoolboy was exchanged 'militant'

    By Peter Popham in Delhi

    4 January 2000

    A former British public schoolboy who was head of his house and school chess champion is one of the key figures in the Indian Airlines hijack crisis that ended on New Year's Eve with the release of 155 hostages.

    Ahmad Omar Sayyed Sheikh was the third "militant" held in Indian jails whose release was procured by the hijackers in exchange for the freedom of the airline passengers.

    The son of a businessman from Lahore, Pakistan, who now runs a textile goods firm based in Commercial Road, east London, Sheikh, a British national, was comfortably raised in Wanstead, an outer London suburb, and went to Forest School, Epping, where he gained four A-levels.

    But at the London School of Economics, where he studied mathematics, he is said to have come under the influence of Islamic fundamentalist students who convinced him to dedicate his life to jihad holy war.

    His perfect English accent turned out to be a boon for the terrorist group, Harkat-ul-Ansar, with which he became involved, when they decided to start kidnapping Western tourists as a way to secure the release of their imprisoned comrades. In Delhi, in 1994, he befriended a young English traveller called Rhys Partridge, and persuaded him to travel with him to Saharanpur, a fruit-growing town in the hills 90 miles north of Delhi, where Mr Partridge found himself taken prisoner and shackled in a tiny room.

    Two friends were persuaded to go looking for him, and they, too, were taken prisoner by Sheikh and his accomplices.

    Sheikh's immaculate English startled them. He would reminisce about his time at Forest School, where he was an outstanding scholar, and at the LSE; then with a swing of mood he would threaten to decapitate them. The three hostages were only rescued when police launched a raid on the hideout, during which Sheikh received a gunshot wound. Had the police not intervened the hostages believe they would have been killed.

    Currently on holiday together in Australia, they described Sheikh's release as "a disgrace and a signal to others to do the same".

    Sheikh was arrested on terrorism charges, but because of the sluggish pace of Indian justice he had not been brought to trial when the order came to release him. His whereabouts since leaving Kandahar with the hijackers are unknown.

    It is rumoured that he may be in Lahore, his family's Pakistani base.