NICOSIA, Cyprus — Gunmen seized an Afghan airliner Sunday and forced it to southern Iran, the Soviet and Iranian news agencies said. One report said the plane was forced to crash-land, killing four people, while other reports indicated the hijackers were holding 12 passengers hostage.
According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, four passengers were killed and 34 injured when the plane, forced to land at an unsuitable strip of sand, buckled and overturned. The agency's report made no mention of hostages and appeared to indicate that the hijackers were no longer a threat to the surviving passengers and crew.
But an Afghan government spokesman in the capital of Kabul said a dozen passengers were held by hijackers after the plane landed in Zabol, near the Iran-Afghanistan border.
The official Soviet news agency Tass, in a dispatch from Kabul, added: "Today two unidentified gunmen hijacked an (Antonov 26) transport plane of the Afghan airline Ariana, which was on a domestic flight.
"At 2 p.m. local time, the plane landed at the Zabol city airport in Iran. There were five crew members and 35 passengers on board.
"The Afghan government (news) agency Bakhtar has stated that 26 passengers have now been freed. They are attempting to secure the release of the remaining hostages and the return of the hijacked plane to Afghanistan," Tass said.
The Iranian news agency's early reports attributed the crash to a struggle between hijackers and the pilot. Its later accounts were less specific, mentioning only a "clash" on board and saying nothing of the fate of the hijackers.
IRNA reported that the dead included a woman and three children. It indicate that there were 38 passengers and crew aboard.
Iran's Islamic revolutionary government is strongly opposed to Afghanistan's Soviet-backed administration. Some of the Muslim guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Kabul regime are based in Iran.
The Afghan government spokesman in Kabul told reporters the hijackers had not contacted the Iranian authorities and the Afghan Embassy in Iran. He said he knew of no demands.
But Iranian Deputy Prime Minister Alireza Moayeri flew to Zabol to head the investigation, an indication that the hijacking was politically motivated. Moayeri led a team that negotiated with the hijackers of a Kuwaiti plane flown to the Iranian city of Mashad in 1988.
Zabol is near a point where the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet. The site is 500 miles southwest of Kabul and 700 miles southeast of the Iranian capital, Tehran.