On April 8, Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani military scientist and a political commentator, wrote that Omar Saeed Sheikh was “let go, because someone in Pakistan wanted him freed, like mentor Masood Azhar”. Sheikh was charged with killing Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in July 2002. On April 2, 2020, the High Court, however, convicted him only of kidnapping and sentenced him to 7 years in jail. He had already spent 18 years in prison. Pakistan prevented his release by detaining him and three co-accused. While denouncing his acquittal, US State department hailed Pakistan’s decision to appeal.
The life of Omar Saeed Sheikh, a London School of Economics drop-out, has many shades, not all of them clear but inexorably connected with al-Qaeda, 9/11, MI-6 and India. On September 10, 2005, the late Michael Meacher, then a Labour MP, hinted his relationship with the British government in The Guardian. He quoted former US federal prosecutor John Loftus that British Intelligence had used al-Muhajiron for the Serbian War in Kosovo. Former President Pervez Musharraf was more direct in accusing him of being an MI-6 spy in his “In the Line of Fire” (2008).
Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, who was kidnapped and killed.
In 1994, Sheikh was arrested in India for kidnapping four foreign tourists to highlight global attention on Kashmir. However, he was released at Kandahar on 31 December 1999 when India weakly allowed two other hardened terrorists, Maulana Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, in exchange for 154 hostages in the hijacked Indian Airlines 814 from Kathmandu. A free, emboldened and strengthened Maulana Azhar would gleefully organize attacks on our Parliament in 2001 and unleash unremitting terrorism in Kashmir valley. Sheikh would assume leadership roles in 9/11 financing and the abduction-killing of Daniel Pearl in 2002.
It was unfortunate that neither the US National Commission on 9/11 attacks nor US agencies took note of certain developments concerning Omar Saeed Sheikh before the attack on India. The 9/11 Commission had observed on page 172 of their final report released on July 26, 2004: “To date, US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks”.
On 19 June 2003, I had given a lecture at the Cosmos Club, Washington DC, in the presence of leading think tank experts and State Department officials. The subject was “Better Intelligence Management of Terrorism: A blueprint for National Commission investigating 9/11”. Among other points, I had mentioned the linkage and friendship between Indian criminal Aftab Ansari alias Farhan Mallik and Omar Saeed Sheikh in an Uttar Pradesh jail in the early 1990s and how this had resulted in possible 9/11 terror-financing.
Fifty days before 9/11, Ansari’s gang abducted Partha Burman, a Kolkata businessman on July 21, 2001. Burman’s family had to pay a huge ransom, estimated to have been 3 crores of Indian rupees (Roughly US 600,000 then) to get him released. The police in India had found that part of this money was transferred through hawala channels to Omar Saeed Sheikh in Pakistan via Dubai. Later Ansari organized an armed attack on US Consulate, Kolkata on January 22, 2002. Our very vigilant CBI tracked him in Dubai and got him deported to India on February 9 before he could board a flight to Islamabad.
“India Abroad” Weekly, then published from New York, had confirmed in their issue of 13 September 2002 that the hawala money was sent to Shafeeq, Dawood Ibrahim’s aide in Dubai who transferred it to Omar Saeed Sheikh. Significantly Michael Meacher mentioned that Sheikh “at the behest of Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, head of the ISI, wired $ 100,000 to Mohammed Atta, the leading 9/11 hijacker”. He says this was confirmed by Dennis Lormel, director of FBI’s financial crimes unit”. Later mention of the same details was made by Rand analyst Rollie Lal in “Orbis” (Spring 2005) of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia.
The Daniel Pearl murder case against Omar Saeed Sheikh was already adversely affected by the Pearl Project’s parallel investigations and forensic “Vein matching”. In January 2011 they reported that Pearl was killed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). Incidentally, KSM’s trial in a military court is to start on January 11, 2021.
(The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. Views are personal)