Indian Mujahideen terror linked to organised crime

Praveen Swami

NEW DELHI: Mumbai investigators have found evidence that organised crime groups could have provided logistics infrastructure for the Indian Mujahideen terror offensive.

Based on information provided by the Intelligence Bureau, the Mumbai police have arrested Afzal Usman — a mid-level organised crime figure the investigators believe arranged for the theft of four vehicles used as car bombs in the July 27 serial bombings in Gujarat.

Usman has long been known to police as a lieutenant of the jailed ganglord Aftab Ansari, author of the January 2002 Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami-supported terrorist attack targeting the United States Information Centre.

A one-time resident of Mhow, Usman moved to Mumbai eight years ago. He is thought to have handled several money-laundering and extortion operations for Ansari. Part of the proceeds, police believe, could have funded the Indian Mujahideen’s terror offensive.

The investigators say Usman handed two cars stolen from the Navi Mumbai area to key Indian Mujahideen operative Mohammad Atif, who died in Friday’s shootout with the Delhi police. A resident of Sangarpur village, near Sarai Mir in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district, Atif is believed to have headed the team which carried out explosives assembly and training for the Indian Mujahideen strike team which targeted Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi.

Usman, the investigators say, also delivered two other cars to Qayamuddin Kapadia, a Vadodara-based graphics artist who is alleged to have led the Indian Mujahideen cell which attempted to execute the bombings in Surat in July. Both cars were fitted with improvised explosive devices which, however, failed to detonate because of the failure of the integrated circuit-based timing devices. Kapadia has so far evaded arrest.

Ansari’s links with Islamist terror groups have long been known. His ideological radicalisation appears to have taken place while serving a prison sentence in New Delhi’s Tihar jail, where he met top Jaish-e-Mohammad operative Syed Omar Sheikh. Sheikh, later released in the December 1999 Indian Airlines IC-814 hostages-for-terrorists swap in Kandhahar, is now on death row in Pakistan for the murder of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl.

In November 1999, just weeks before the Kandhahar hijack, Ansari was released from prison. He jumped bail and left for Rawalpindi on a fake Indian passport identifying him as Farhan Malik. Once in Pakistan, Ansari acquired a Pakistani passport, J 872142, in the name of Safir Mohammad Rana. He married a Pakistani national whose brother, Mohammad Tahir, was in prison with him on Jammu and Kashmir terrorism-related charges.

Deal struck
While in Pakistan, intelligence sources said, Ansari made a deal with Sheikh. While the Jaish-e-Mohammad made available its considerable armed assets in India for his criminal operations, the ganglord gave it a percentage of the take. After 2002, Ansari also helped to recruit foot soldiers for the Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and arranged for their travel to training camps in Pakistan.

Later, Ansari helped to create a new organisation of Indian jihadists, a precursor to the Indian Mujahideen. Named after Asif Raza Khan, a gangster killed in a controversial 2001 encounter with the Gujarat police, the Asif Raza Commando Force was founded by his brother, Bangladesh-based mafioso Amir Raza Khan. Ansari soon took control of its operations, which included the 2001 Kolkata terror attack and several explosives runs across the India-Bangladesh border.

Funds raised from kidnapping and extortion are thought to have helped to build much of the infrastructure for post-2002 jihadism in India. Some believe that the proceeds from the kidnapping of Kolkata tycoon Partha Roy Burman, who was released after his family paid a Rs. 3.75-crore ransom to Ansari through hawala channels, made their way through Syed Omar Sheikh to Mohammad Atta — the architect of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the U.S.