American and international investigations have entered their third week after the terrorist strikes in the US, and the first clear leads with an Indian angle point to Syed Omar Sheikh, one of the three militants released in exchange for passengers held captive on the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 in Kandahar in 1999. Omar spent nearly six years in Indian prisons on charges of terrorism and extortion. He's now wanted in the US on charges of money-laundering linked to the September 11 suicide attacks.
Omar's suspected involvement throws new light on Pakistan's role in cross-border terrorism and could give Indian diplomacy the impetus it needs to establish its case.
The fact that the US sees Omar as a key suspect in the September 11 attacks is largely due to the information furnished by Indian officials and intelligence agencies to the American investigators. Latest investigations have linked Omar with Saudi Arabian Mohammed Atta, who piloted one of the airplanes into the wtc. fbi investigators are looking into the transfer of a large sum of money from a Pakistan-based bank to an account in New York. The transaction was allegedly conducted by Omar.
Omar, an affluent resident of London and a former alumnus of the London School of Economics, was held in October 1994 by the UP police under tada. According to the Indian investigators, after his arrest in Sahibabad, the Indian government was under tremendous 'western' pressure to release him, proving that he was well-connected in Britain.
Police officers, who had been responsible for the investigations then, say Omar first came to India around 1993 and was active in trying to secure the release of Jaish chief Masood Azhar by being part of a series of arson and kidnapping activities, particularly of foreigners, to pressurise the Indian government to release Azhar. In one such incident in December 1994, he took into captivity four American backpackers from Delhi's Paharganj locality. The tourists, taken in by Omar's British accent, were kept in captivity in a hut at a village in Sahibabad.
Omar's arrest in Sahibabad too was accidental. According to investigators, a posse of policemen on a routine patrol were passing the house where Omar and his captives were holed up. A man posted by Omar to be on the look-out for any unusual activity sounded a premature alert and ran into the house. The police chased him. In the firing that followed, a policeman was killed. Inside the house, Omar was found shouting for help along with his captives. The latter informed the police that the man leading the chorus was actually the kidnapper himself. He spent nearly six years in Delhi's Tihar jail until his release in the Kandahar quid pro quo.
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