Saeed Sheikh Believed to Have Abetted Terrorists

Aired October 28, 2001 - 07:10 ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: America's global war on terrorism hinges on a tenuous collision of -- coalition, rather, of many nations. Two of them are India and Pakistan, countries that are bitter enemies. CNN's Maria Ressa details what the Bush administration faces in keeping the alliance from falling apart as it seeks those suspected of financing terrorism.


MARIA RESSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once a standout student at the London School of Economics, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is the man the FBI thinks sent start-up money to the hijackers for the September terrorist attacks.

BRAHMA CHELLANEY, POLITICAL ANALYST: He is supposed to be an expert in financial dealings. He reportedly is controlling certain aspects of the financial transactions of the al Qaeda network.

RESSA: The British-born son of Pakistani parents, he speaks five languages, perhaps a sixth, the language of violence. Known in India as Omar Sheikh, he was jailed in 1994 for kidnapping these Western tourists whom he tried to exchange for the freedom of 10 jailed Islamic militants.

AK JAIN, ARRESTING OFFICER: He's really a powerfully bright man; and it was at one stage, seven, eight of us had to pull him down on his leg. So you know, unarmed combat, he was fully trained.

RESSA: Arresting officer AK Jain says under questioning, Omar Sheikh admitted he was supported by the Pakistan government's intelligence service, the ISI.

JAIN: He had told me that.

RESSA (on-camera): He admitted it to you?

JAIN: Oh, yes, yes.

RESSA (voice-over): The kidnappings came amid an increasingly violent struggle by militants to try to wrest Kashmir from a half century of Indian rule.

NIRUPAMA RAO, INDIAN SPOKESWOMAN: He was here on a mission that had received support from the ISI. And after he release, it was very clear that he was provided protection and safe haven in Pakistan with the direct support, with the knowledge and -- obviously, with the connivance of the Pakistani intelligence.

RESSA: In 1999, Islamic militants hijacked an Indian Airlines jumbo jet in an ordeal that lasted eight days for 178 passengers and crew. It ended when India agreed to release Omar Sheikh and two other prisoners.

RAO: He was received by an enlisted colonel of the Interservices Intelligence of Pakistan and taken away to an undisclosed destination. He did surface in Pakistan a few months later where he was obviously given protection and safe haven by the ISI.

RESSA: At the highest levels, Pakistan denies India's assertions.

ABDUL SATTER, PAKISTAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Otherwise, if you ask all the -- India, you will find that even a hijacking hoax was blamed on the ISI, which was absolutely false. And similarly, whenever anything happens, without conducting investigations, without looking at the facts, India jumps to -- jumps to the conclusion that Pakistan is to blame.

RESSA (on-camera): Whatever the truth this latest war of words is, it's just one more example of what a difficult tightrope the U.S. will have to walk in trying to keep the friendship and support of both these rival nations in its own fight against terrorism.

Maria Ressa, CNN, New Delhi.