LAHORE, Pakistan -- Sikh extremists hijacked an Indian Airlines plane with 264 people aboard today and forced it to land in Pakistan where they freed six of their hostages, officials said.
'Long Live Khalistan, Long Live Pakistan,' the Press Trust of India news agency quoted the hijackers as saying on arrival in Lahore. Khalistan is the name of a sovereign nation demanded by militant Sikhs.
Official reports said the A-300 Airbus landed only minutes before its fuel was about to run out. Radio Pakistan said the hijackers had threatened to blow up the aircraft if permission to land had not been granted.
The Press Trust reported that at least nine hijackers released six passengers after landing in Lahore. The hijackers said they wanted to fly to another destination after refueling, but no details were available and their demands were not known.
It said all the hijackers were fair-skinned and clean shaven, although Sikhs normally wear long hear and beards with turbans wrapped around their head and a ritual knife at their sides.
Officials however, identified the hijackers as members of the banned All India Sikhs Student Federation, blamed by the Indian government for hundreds of terrorist killings in Punjab.
The agency said the air pirates also shouted: 'Long Live Bhindranwale,' refering to the militant leader of the Sikh extremists killed when Indian army troops assaulted the Golden Temple in Punjab state last month.
Pakistani authorities initially refused it permission to land and blocked the runway. They finally allowed the plane to land after Indian authorities requested the landing. The aircraft was immediately surrounded by Pakistani security forces, officials said.
Revising an earlier statement on the number of passengers, officials said the Indian Airlines A-300 Airbus carried 255 passengers and nine crew. They said the passengers included 72 women and 34 children.
The jet was on a regularly scheduled flight from the capital of troubled Kashmir state, Srinagar, to New Delhi when it was hijacked, airline officials said.
Indian Ambassador to Pakistan, K. D. Sharma, and other embassy officials left Islamabad for Lahore to conduct negotiations with the hijackers, officials said.
The hijacking came hours after Kashmir state authorities reimposed a curfew in Srinagar to forestall outbreaks of mob violence following the firing of the state's chief minister by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Mrs Gandhi was being kept informed of the latest developments in the hijacking, which was the fourth in India since 1981, officials said.
The plane made contact with the New Delhi control tower just before it was due to land and reported it had been hijacked, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
Before heading for Lahore, it was diverted and began circling the city of Lucknow, 200 miles southeast of New Delhi, according to Indian Airlines.
Lahore, a major city in the Pakistani province of Punjab, is located 250 miles northwest of New Delhi.
The hijacking came as authorities reimposed a curfew on Srinagar where there has been mob violence over the firing of Kashmir state's chief minister three days ago.
'The situation in the city remains tense,' and dawn-to-dusk curfews, lifted briefly today, would be reimposed 'as a precautionary measure,' a security official said.
Steel-helmeted police and paramilitary troops, with orders to shoot lawbreakers on sight, stepped up patrols in Srinagar, 400 miles north of New Delhi.
Supporters and opponents of the toppled chief minister, Farooq Abdullah, clashed Wednesday at several places, leaving 36 injured, including three people wounded when police opened fire to disperse mobs.
Shops were closed in a general strike called by Abdullah to protest his dismissal. Mrs Gandhi ousted him Monday on grounds that he lost control of the state assembly when 12 members of his ruling party defected.