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Take Out The Hood

A concerted campaign by India pays dividends. The D-Company boss is on the run, the US hot on his trail.

Take Out The Hood
Take Out The Hood
Soon after deputy prime minister L.K. Advani returned from his visit to the United States in June this year, New Delhi received information that various intelligence agencies there were convinced of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim’s links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Taliban—and through it, to Al Qaeda. But there was still a little work to be done before Washington could take action: it had to carry out final verifications of intelligence leads, largely supplied by Indian agencies but developed subsequently on the ground by the US.

It took nearly four months for the verifications to come through, but finally Dawood was on the list of individuals involved in terrorism against the US, the list that the treasury department maintains. Before this action was taken last week, Washington had informed New Delhi of the impending development. And the person most jubilant about the news would have probably been deputy prime minister Advani.

It has been Advani’s evangelical mission to jostle Dawood into the firing line. He wanted results on India’s case list of 20 Most Wanted (submitted to Pakistan last year) even as others in the government continued to harp on the now-trite theme of ‘Pakistan must stop cross-border terrorism’. On his June trip to Washington, Advani had repeatedly told US leaders that India needed a visible, non-reversible action from Pakistan to demonstrate its sincerity in curbing terrorism. And what could be a more visible action than to hand over Dawood and a few others from the much-vaunted list of 20; it would be non-reversible because Pakistan couldn’t possibly take them back from India, unlike, say, the terrorist camps that are back in action.

But, why Dawood? Advani told US leaders that "the name Dawood Ibrahim had the same kind of resonance in India as the name Osama bin Laden had in America". US leaders were also told that any movement on the "list of 20" could completely change the dynamics in the region. It isn’t surprising to find that New Delhi has now announced a new set of measures to improve Indo-Pak relations, as also a meeting between Advani and the Hurriyat leaders.

But the Indian endeavour on the list of 20 didn’t produce immediate results. Following the attack on Parliament on December 13, 2001, India prepared the list furnishing relevant details about those who were on it. Later, in early 2002, Islamabad was demarched repeatedly to hand over those named in the list, but it stonewalled, predictably rubbishing media and intelligence claims of Dawood residing in Pakistan. Among other things, India provided details of the 1993 Interpol red corner notice ((A 135/4-1993) on Dawood and also of the Pakistani passport issued to him on August 12, 1991, as well as his phone numbers.

Curiously, when the US treasury department terrorist listing was made public, it mentioned Dawood’s passport number as G 869537; the number New Delhi had provided was G 866537. There was also a discrepancy in the telephone numbers. The American list said the number was 021-5892038; the numbers provided by India were 021-7278866 and 7272887. Though the US treasury didn’t list Dawood’s address, his passport mentions his permanent residence as: 6/A Khayabban Tanzeem, Phase 5, Defence Housing Area, Karachi. It’s a prestigious address to boast of in Karachi where retired army officials live luxuriously; it also underscores the intimate links between Dawood and the establishment there.

These discrepancies in the US treasury department listing, perhaps, enabled Islamabad to claim it had checked out the details but that they did not tally with their records. Indian sources, however, say the discrepancies were an error and would presumably be rectified by the Americans.

Obviously, it wasn’t just Advani’s proddings that pushed the US into moving against Dawood. The latter had already crossed Washington’s path during the investigations into the massive bomb blasts in Riyadh on the eve of secretary of state Colin Powell’s visit there in May this year. American sleuths were tracking the hawala operations so it isn’t surprising that Dawood’s name cropped up, considering the control he exercises in South Asia and the Gulf.

American investigations in Riyadh, to begin with, put the spotlight on one of Dawood’s shadowy henchmen, Saud Memon. He was found to be financing the Al Akhtar Trust (formerly Al Rashid Trust; it was also sanctioned by the US treasury department two days before Dawood was). Otherwise known as a wealthy Karachi garment exporter, it was Memon who, in January 2002, drove Wall Street Journal’s South Asia correspondent Daniel Pearl into a compound that he owned. It was here that Pearl’s throat was slit. Memon subsequently disappeared from Karachi.

When contacted by Outlook, the vice-president of the recently banned Al Akhtar Trust, Mohammed Ibrahim, conceded that Saud Memon had been a member till his resignation in January 2003. He said he had no idea of Memon’s links to Dawood Ibrahim, but admitted that the Al Rasheed Trust had recently been renamed Al Akhtar.

Meanwhile, in June this year, at the time Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was in Boston, the fbi nabbed eight suspected Lashkar operatives in the US. Charged with stockpiling weapons and waging jehad against India, these eight activists had apparently received arms training in Pakistan and some of them had even seen action in Kashmir.

There has existed, for some time now, a connection between Dawood and the Lashkar. An early inkling of it came during an operation in June 1999 in Lucknow. It led to the arrest of Azizuddin Sheikh with an AK-47 and 100 rounds of ammunition. Sheikh had been planning the assassination of then Maharashtra CM Narayan Rane, and was also responsible for an attack on former Mumbai mayor Milind Vaidya. Sheikh turned out to be an LeT operative with the code name Abu Omar in addition to being a D-Company operative. It has also been established beyond reasonable doubt that Dawood has connections with Bilal Beg’s jklf, say sources. This was established during an operation near Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in Delhi two years ago.

Indian investigations in South Africa and Singapore also established that shipping companies that Dawood bankrolled were carrying contraband meant for Al Qaeda on routes bound mostly for Canada. Dawood had also been sighted in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, where he at times travelled to Mecca. Sources say India provided precise information about Dawood’s links with the isi as well. His main link with the Taliban is reportedly the Peshawar-based Ibrahim Khan, who is close to Maulvi Dadullah, engaged in fighting the Karzai government in Zabul province.

Indian authorities now believe the isi is moving Dawood around inside Pakistan. For a while he was somewhere in the university town in Peshawar where former Afghan leaders have houses. Though it isn’t quite clear what impact Washington’s characterisation of Dawood as terrorist will have, it will definitely make his travels abroad more circuitous. In Pakistan itself, the move will push him further into the shadows.

By V. Sudarshan and Amir Mir in Lahore

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