NEW DELHI, India -- Seven Sikhs were sentenced to life imprisonment Monday for hijacking an Indian Airlines jetliner in northern Punjab state and forcing it to fly to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in August 1984, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The seven were sentenced in a special court set up inside a prison in Ajmer, Rajasthan, located 230 miles southwest of the Indian capital. The sentence came less than a month after the seven were convicted.
The hijackers, claiming to have a time bomb, seized control of an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 on Aug. 24, 1984, minutes after it left Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana states, en route to Jammu in northern Kashmir state.
The hijackers initially demanded the Indian domestic jetliner be flown to the United States. They forced the plane to land in Lahore, where they claimed to have enough explosives to blow it up, and threatened to kill one of the 86 passengers every 15 minutes unless the plane was refueled.
Five of the passengers were released at Lahore, where Pakistani authorities allowed the plane to refuel and leave. The jetliner then flew to Karachi where the hijackers freed two women who became ill. Pakistani authorities in Karachi refueled the plane at the hijackers demand and the jetliner flew to Dubai.
All the remaining passengers and crew were released unharmed in Dubai 36 hours after the plane had been hijacked. After lengthy negotiations in Dubai, the hijackers surrendered to authorities and were sent to New Delhi on Sept. 3, 1984.
The hijackers sentenced to life imprisonment were Kamaljit Singh Sandhu, Devendra Singh, Amrendra Singh, Avtar Singh, Tajinder Singh, Man Singh and Surendra Singh. All Sikh men use the title 'Singh,' which means lion.
The sentence came just days after four unarmed students hijacked an Indian domestic airliner to demand postponement of their annual university examinations.
The student hijackers were overpowered by several of their 51 fellow passengers on board last Saturday and were then taken into police custody. This was India's second hijack in two weeks and the third in less than three months.
On March 27, a 37-year-old former trucker claiming to be a member of India's governing Congress party commandeered an Indian airliner with 203 people on board to voice his frustration over the state of affairs in the country. He surrendered to police in Amritsar, the Sikh holy city, after failing to get permission for the plane to land in Lahore.
On Jan. 22, a young Hindu radical commandeered an Indian domestic airliner with 48 passengers on board including two federal ministers.
Claiming to be armed with a chemically laced bomb, the 22-year-old hijacker commandeered the Indian Airlines plane on a flight from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, to New Delhi and then surrendered before a top leader of India's largest opposition party.
At least one dozen Indian Airlines planes have been hijacked in the past 15 years despite stepped-up security at Indian airports.