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Militant freed by India in hijack deal in Pakistani Kashmir: witnesses

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    Militant freed by India in hijack deal in Pakistani Kashmir: witnesses

    Militant freed by India in hijack deal in Pakistani Kashmir: witnesses
    MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Jan 4 (AFP) -
    An Islamic militant freed last week by India in a deal with the hijackers of an Indian Airlines plane arrived in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir late Tuesday, witnesses said.

    Mushtaq Ahmad Zargar was given a warm welcome by members of his guerrilla group, Al-Umar Mujahideen, in the state capital Muzaffarabad, they said.

    Zargar and two other militants were released in exchange for 160 hostages to end the hijacking of the Airbus A300 at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan on December 31.

    The five hijackers and the freed militants vanished from Kandahar, availing a safe passage by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia as part of the swap.

    India has said the hijackers are now in Pakistan. Islamabad has said the hijackers would be arrested and put on trial if they entered Pakistani territory.

    Welcome banners were put up at several points in Muzaffarabad ahead of the arrival of Zargar, the founder of Al-Umar Muajahideen, one of the groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

    The banners read "No retreat, no surrender" and "Kashmir will become part of Pakistan."

    India holds two-thirds of the Himalayan state of Kashmir, and Pakistan the remainder. The dispute between the two over its ownership has caused two of the three wars between the two countries since 1947.

    Zargar, in his late 30s, is described by India as one of the founding fathers of militancy in Indian Kashmir, which has been rocked by a Muslim separatist insurgency since 1989.

    He was jailed several times in India.

    In 1983, Zargar was imprisoned in connection with a blast in Bombay. He was again arrested in 1984 for working with Al Maqbool, a militant organization, but released two years later.

    Al Maqbool was named after Mohammad Maqbool Butt, a pro-independence Kashmiri leader who was hanged in a New Delhi prison by the Indian government in February 1984.

    Zargar went underground in 1987 and founded Al-Umar in 1988.

    According to guerrilla sources, Zargar crossed the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan many times after founding the Al-Umar group.

    He was in prison in Srinagar in Indian Kashmir when he was freed.