KARACHI - The authorities on Thursday executed three Baloch rebels convicted of hijacking a plane in 1998, which they attempted to fly to India to disrupt Islamabad’s first nuclear tests.

The executions were carried out on the 17th anniversary of the tests, which made Pakistan the world’s seventh nuclear-armed power.

Two of the men, Shahsawar Baloch and Sabir Baloch were hanged in Hyderabad prison while the third, Shabir Rind, was hanged in Karachi, officials at both the prisons told AFP.

The trio was sentenced to death for hijacking a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft with 30 passengers on board on 24th May, 1998, four days before the country’s first nuclear test.

The PIA flight 554 took off from Turbat, in the south of Balochistan, and was heading for Karachi when the attackers boarded during a stopover in Gwadar. The men stormed the cockpit and tried to force the pilot to fly to India.

But the pilot, Captain Uzair Khan, instead flew to Hyderabad city, 160 kilometres northeast of Karachi, tricking the hijackers into thinking that they were in India.

They commandeered the Fokker shortly after take-off, and demanded the captain fly directly to Delhi. He told them there was not enough fuel, but agreed to bring the plane as far as Bhuj, an airstrip in Gujarat, India.

Instead, he landed in Hyderabad where security forces were waiting.

In order to let the hijackers think they were in India, authorities banned the use of loudspeakers in mosques around the airport.

The next day army commandoes overpowered all the three hijackers in a night operation. Passengers and crew were unharmed.

Officials said the executed hijackers were members of the left-wing Baloch Students’ Organisation (BSO), who were demanding more resources, such as gas and electricity, for their region.

At the time of the hijacking, officials said one of the hijackers’ demands was for Pakistan not to carry out the nuclear tests which were due to be carried out in Balochistan.

They were sentenced to be executed in October 1998 but remained on death row until a moratorium on executions was lifted after the Peshawar school massacre.

Separately, five more prisoners were executed Thursday in Sahiwal, Haripur, Sargodha, Attock and Karachi jails. They were convicted in murder cases and were not linked to the hijackers.

A prisoner in Karachi central jail, Mahmood Ali, was sent to gallows for murdering a three-year-old child in 2003.

In Attock, a prisoner, Akseer, was hanged till death in district jail for committing a murder. The death convict had killed a man on a Rs7,000 money dispute.

Another inmate, Muhammad Ashraf, who killed two persons in 2000, was executed in Sahiwal jail.

In Haripur, a man, Malik Khurram, who was on death row for killing his friend was sent to gallows in central jail.

Ameer Abdullah, was hanged till death in Sargodha district jail for killing a man after being sacked from work.