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Catch me if you can

Catch me if you can

Author: Amir Mir
Publication: Mid Day
Date: November 9, 2003

Washington's decision last month to declare Dawood Ibrahim a specially designated global terrorist with links to two outlawed militant outfits, al Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), is causing considerable consternation amongst security agencies in Pakistan, the UAE and south-east Asian countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. Agencies that were earlier turning a blind eye to the Indian underworld don's criminal networks in their countries are now scrambling for cover and contemplating ways and means of taking action.

In a more Pakistan-specific context, the US action not only changes the complexion of Washington's relationship with New Delhi but also forces Islamabad, an ally in the 'war against terror', to confront certain unsavoury possibilities. After all, it is widely conjectured that Dawood Ibrahim resides in opulence in Karachi.

Soon after the October 16 announcement, the US treasury department asked the United Nations to place Dawood Ibrahim's name on the latter's terrorist watch-list in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.

A UN listing, which is highly likely, will require all member states to freeze Ibrahim's assets and bank accounts and slap a travel ban on the master criminal.

This would mean that Pakistan and Gulf states such as the UAE would also be required to initiate action against 'D-Company', the working name for the Dawood network. The UAE is regarded as the hub of the Dawood syndicate - its operations Dubai, for instance, have been well-entrenched for over a decade.

"We are calling on the international community to stop the flow of dirty money that kills. For the Ibrahim syndicate, the business of terrorism forms part of their larger criminal enterprise, which must be dismantled," said Juan Zarate, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, in a statement accompanying the US treasury department's notification on Dawood Ibrahim.

Dawood subsequently joined the long list of 321 individuals and organisations designated as terrorists by the US since September 11, 2001. The US treasury department notification even provides details of a passport issued to Dawood by the Pakistani government and an address for a Karachi residence.

However, the prime source for information regarding Dawood's criminal and terrorist activities was the Indian government, which had been sharing intelligence information with the US since the Joint Working Group on Terrorism was set up five years ago. New Delhi has described the US decision as a victory of the Indian intelligence agencies, which had submitted a dossier to the Bush administration during Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani's Washington yatra earlier this year.

The US action also flies in the face of General Pervez Musharraf's categorical statement at Agra that the man accused of engineering the deaths of 200 Indians in the 1993 Bombay blasts was not hiding in Pakistan.

Much to Islamabad's embarrassment, the US cited intelligence reports of Dawood's connections with al Qaeda and the LeT amongst its reasons for putting him on the list of the world's most-wanted terrorists.

A relevant fact sheet, which can be found on the US treasury department's website, holds Dawood Ibrahim, "the son of a police constable," guilty of financially supporting "Islamic militant groups working against India, such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) (sic)." Citing information as recent as autumn 2002, the fact sheet further claims that "Ibrahim has been helping finance increasing attacks in Gujarat by LeT. (which is) the armed wing of Markaz-ud-Dawa-wal-Irsha (sic) - a Sunni anti-US missionary organization formed in 1989."

The Lashkar, led by Professor Hafiz Mohammad, was last year placed on the state department's list of officially designated terrorist outfits.

Washington's decision is said to be largely motivated by the arrests in the US and Saudi Arabia of an Islamist paramilitary unit which is said to have received training in small arms, machine guns and grenade launchers at a LeT camp in north-east Pakistan.

The group, it is said, operated in the Washington DC area and nearby Virginia. Documents released by the FBI on June 30, 2003 state that some of those arrested even fought against Indian troops in occupied Kashmir and were funded by the Dawood syndicate to conduct terrorist activity in the Indian state of Gujarat.

In an earlier raid in April 2003, US authorities arrested an Ohio truck driver of Kashmiri origin, Iyman Faris alias Mohammad Rauf, who is supposedly connected to al Qaeda. Reports of Faris's arrest appeared in American newspapers on June 20, the day General Musharraf arrived in Boston and the indictment in Virginia of 11 militants came on June 27 when the Pakistani president was in Los Angeles.

An upgraded indictment carrying far more serious charges - ranging from plotting to wage war against the US and aiding the Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - was later returned against seven members of the group by a Virginia federal grand jury on September 25 (see box).

When General Musharraf again visited the US in October 2003, he was asked in Los Angeles to comment on the Virginia indictments. The general responded: "We need to see who they are, where they were trained and how they were organised."

The US treasury department's fact sheet goes on to state that "Ibrahim's syndicate is involved in large-scale shipment of narcotics in the UK and Western Europe.

Its smuggling routes from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa are shared with Usama bin Laden (sic) and his terrorist network.. A financial arrangement was reportedly brokered to facilitate the latter's usage of these routes. In the late 1990s, Ibrahim travelled to Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban." Vindicating the Indian position that Pakistan shelters Dawood, the fact sheet claims that he lives in Karachi and holds a Pakistani passport (G-869537).

During the much-trumpeted 2001 Agra summit, Musharraf had vehemently denied that Dawood, one of India's most wanted underworld dons, had sought and been given refuge in Pakistan. The Vajpayee administration believed otherwise.

Musharraf was actually right, albeit in a purely technical sense, since Dawood left Pakistan prior to the Agra summit. According to the FBI, Dawood went to Singapore in early July, 2001 on a fake Pakistani passport and then proceeded to Hong Kong.

He eventually returned to Karachi from Dubai on the night of July 18 and 19. The FBI claims that Dawood, who according to the US agency lives in Moin Palace opposite Abdullah Shah Ghazi's mazar in Karachi's upmarket Clifton area, travelled as Mohammad Anis on a fake passport (no 11-123259). While Musharraf was conferring with Vajpayee in Agra, Dawood left Singapore for Hong Kong on July 15 on a Singapore Airlines flight which ultimately took him to Dubai.

Taking strong exception to US assertions that Dawood holds a Pakistani passport and is hiding in Pakistan, foreign office spokesman Masood Khan said in Islamabad recently that the US had been asked to rectify its mistake. "Dawood Ibrahim is not in Pakistan. I would like to point out that we do not have any Indian suspects on our soil.

Second, India has not provided any evidence or proof of their presence on Pakistani soil. This story, or this controversy, was re-ignited by a determination made by the US treasury department," insisted Khan.

"Fresh inquiries have revealed that the Pakistani passport allegedly in possession of Dawood Ibrahim (actually) belongs to Imtiaz Hussain. Similarly, (92-21) 5892038 (the telephone number cited by the US) does not belong to any person named Dawood Ibrahim or Sheikh Dawood Hussain."

The FBI sleuths already stationed in Pakistan clearly do not buy the foreign office view. According to diplomatic sources, FBI operatives in Pakistan are convinced that Dawood moved house in Karachi to stay out of trouble ever since the US unleashed its 'war on terror' following the September 11 attacks on American soil.

There are also reports that Dawood is trying to dispose of his properties in Karachi and elsewhere and has taken up residence in Islamabad, along with a few close associates. Some well-placed sources in the Pakistani intelligence establishment now admit that they would like the Dawood saga to end as quickly as possible. Besides the Washington-related fallout, the recent bomb blasts in Karachi's Kawish Crown Plaza - which is reportedly owned by Dawood - are raising troublesome domestic security issues.

FBI investigators maintain that the impunity with which Dawood's men used to operate in Karachi prior to 9/11 is a thing of the past anyway. Now, when there is every likelihood that his assets will be frozen and travel curbs implemented, the FBI believes that Dawood's operations will take a serious body-blow.

The finances of the D-Company will also be hurt if lieutenants are unable to contact the frontline hit men who carry out orders. Even havala is under intense scrutiny now, what with the recent meetings between US treasury representatives and Indian officials.

Suspected financing from Dubai and the UAE, it is said, was item number one on the agenda. Significantly, Dawood's trips to the Gulf are expected to end. "We are making Dubai a clean place.

There is little chance that the underworld can operate here. We are on the lookout for unusual activity," said a Dubai police official recently.

But at the same time, there are those in Pakistani intelligence who insist the ongoing US 'war on terror' and crackdown on al Qaeda is short on real targets. They point out that not a single member of the D-Company has been nabbed in recent years in connection with any plot against the US. "Had D-Company been engaged in a terror campaign against the US it could have found many soft bellies in the Asia-Pacific region and in South Africa, where it is strong enough to carry out small-scale attacks, such as planting bombs or trafficking al Qaeda members to carry out attacks," says a leading Pakistani spook.

"There are many other big mafia gangs in Thailand, Hong Kong and South Africa. Compared to them, D-Company is nothing. Yet the US deemed it fit to portray Dawood as a terror ringleader under Pakistan's protection merely to oblige India."

While India hopes that the net is fast closing in on Dawood Ibrahim, the man who can still call on friends in high places may well have a few more cards up his sleeve.

Courtesy Herald, Pakistan
 


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