To simplify it in one sentence – this is the story of an infatuation gone wrong.
A court in India sentenced Birju Salla to life imprisonment today. In 2017, Salla had caused a hijack scare on a Jet Airways flight. Apparently, he had done this so that Jet Airways goes bankrupt and he could ‘teach a lesson’ to a female friend who worked for the airline.
Therefore, it is most ironic that just two months earlier, Jet Airways suspended operations and left thousands of its employees without a job. However, this is a different story. I am certain Mr. Salla had no major part to play in the financial troubles of Jet Airways.
The Hijack that Never Was
On October 30, 2017, Birju Salla had left a note on-board a Jet Airways flight bound for Delhi from Mumbai. The note warned that there were hijackers and explosives on-board. After the note was recovered, the flight made an emergency landing at the Ahmedabad airport (about 1.5 hours from Mumbai). See below a copy of the note. The Urdu version was apparently made using Google Translate and had many grammatical inconsistencies.
Note: POK means Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Initially panic ensued in India. The last hijack had happened in 1999 and led to the release of many dreaded terrorists. Thankfully, the situation normalized in a few hours when clarity emerged that it was a hoax message.
Soon Mr. Salla was arrested based on various evidences including a video of the preparation of the threat note which was captured on his office CCTV. He was also the first person to be put in the newly constituted No-Fly List of India. There are some honorable mentions in that list. However, that is a story for another day.
He was a successful jeweler and a multi-millionaire. Further investigations also revealed the motive behind the hoax. In a startling revelation, police said that the accused had planted the note with an intention to shut down Jet Airways. The reason behind that was that his ‘girlfriend’, who is working in the Delhi office of the airline, would leave her job and come to stay with him in Mumbai. However, there are various versions of this on the internet.
Post 9/11, governments across the world have taken a very strong position against potential threats to commercial aviation. And rightly so.
Salla was charged under the Anti-Hijacking Act, 2016. Under this act, even making such threats is a serious offense punishable with life imprisonment and even death penalty.
Today, the National Investigative Agency (NIA) court found Salla guilty and sentenced him for life. He was also fined INR 50 million ($0.7 million). Mr. Salla has an option of appealing the verdict in higher courts.