On the eve of the dramatic resolution in London of the Ariana Airlines hijacking, TIME reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai spoke with the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Muhammed Omar, by telephone. Several of the plane's crew escaped late Tuesday and the hijackers released the last of the 150 passengers before dawn on Thursday, ending the four-day standoff.
TIME: How did this lapse in security occur?
Mullah Omar: This has happened, I admit. But this also happens in other countries, even in more developed countries.TIME: Are you launching an investigation into the hijacking?
Mullah Omar: We have launched a probe in Kabul for the lapse of security. We have two theories--one is that women were used to take arms in their burqas inside the plane, and perhaps, also, people were paid to get all this done. We have some evidence of some money changing hands.
TIME: Early reports said the hijackers demanded the release of Ismail Khan, the Afghan opposition figure who has been in jail since 1997. Has he been tried and sentenced?
Mullah Omar: His case is still being investigated, he will be tried. People are calling him a mujahid [holy warrior] now, and he may have been one during the jihad, but now he is a big culprit. Ismail Khan was responsible for the killing of hundreds of people in the battles earlier, especially against the Taliban. He fought against the Taliban. In the Girishk battle in Helmand province, hundreds of people were killed and the responsibility is with Ismail Khan. He fought against the Islamic government. Ismail Khan is being held because he is a traitor. Afghanistan is not the only country where such a person is jailed.
TIME: The Taliban asked India to negotiate with hijackers during the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 in December. You have not made the same request of the British authorities. Is that a contradiction?
Mullah Omar: This is a different situation because the Indian government asked us, when the plane was still in the air, to allow it to land in Kandahar. We had no intention to do so but did at India's request, to save the passengers. We said again and again it must leave. Again at India's request that we not to allow it to leave, we agreed. At India's request, we tried to get the two sides to negotiate.
But now in this case, we didn't ask the British government to allow the plane to land, and we trust the British government to take any action it deems fit. But we on our part are not willing to accept any demand of the hijackers because it will encourage other terrorists. We are against terrorism and would not like to encourage terrorism because it will lead to more such hijackings.
TIME: Do you think that policy can threaten the passengers' lives?
Mullah Omar: I don't think they're in any real danger because the British government has a firm policy on hijacking. The airport is prepared and equipped to deal with hijacking and the British government has a policy not to allow hijacked aircraft to leave. And police and aviation officials have expertise in dealing with hijackings and they follow international law. We believe there will be no danger to the lives of passengers.
TIME: Have the hijackers told you they want Ismail Khan released?
Mullah Omar: No. We have not been officially told by anyone of a demand for his release. But even if such a demand is made, we have taken a principled stand that we will not accept any demand and negotiate with hijackers.