Italian arrests cast fresh doubt on Islamabad probe’s integrity
Last November, two rubber dinghies carrying 10 Lashkar-e-Taiba “fidayeen” armed with assault rifles and explosives nudged up along the Mumbai shoreline.
One hundred and seventy-three people died, and more than 300 were injured in the carnage that followed.
In the months that have passed, evidence has been mounting that Pakistan investigators had failed to act against key perpetrators—and, worse, may have colluded in effort to help them evade justice.
During his visit to Jammu and Kashmir last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made clear his dissatisfaction with the Pakistani investigation—the latest in a series of Indian high officials to do so. “We are not satisfied,” he said, “that goes without saying. We hope Pakistan will take effective measures to bring to justice all the perpetrators of 26/11.”
Saturday’s arrests in Italy have thrown up fresh evidence that muddies Pakistan’s claims to be serious about investigating the carnage in Mumbai.
In February, 2009, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik alleged that Barcelona resident Javed Iqbal was responsible for transferring funds to the United States-based voice-over-internet service used by the Lashkar to guide the assault unit that carried out the attacks.
“Having ascertained the involvement of Javed Iqbal,” Mr. Malik told journalists, “we somehow lured him into coming to Pakistan and he was arrested on his arrival.”
Pakistani investigators were reported to have discovered Mr. Iqbal’s role in the funds transfers after examining a computer used by a key Lashkar commander, identified by the code-name Zarar Shah.
But in an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Italian counter-terrorism police chief Stefano Fonzi asserted that Mr. Iqbal had never in fact travelled to his country—and was likely a victim of identity theft.
Italy’s crack Divisione Investigazioni Generali e Operazioni Speciali, [Division of General Investigations and Special Operations] arrested 60-year-old Mohammad Yaqub Janjua and his 31-year-old son Aamer Yaqub Janjua routing the funds through their Brescia business.
“We discovered,” Mr. Fonzi said, “that the Brescia-based outfit had made several transfers using the identity of totally innocent, unsuspecting persons. Thus there were over 300 transfers in the name of a certain Javed Iqbal, who had never even set foot in Italy,
Mr. Fonzi also said the owners of the funds acted on instructions from two Pakistan-based individuals he was not at liberty to name. It is unclear why Pakistan has not held the two suspects.
India investigators believe that the funds trail could lead to Sajid Mir—head of the Lashkar’s transcontinental operations, whose name has figured in investigations of terrorist cells stretching from Australia and Europe to the United States.
Many Indian investigators believe Mir, who remains at large, could in fact be Zarar Shah: the commander who guided the Mumbai assault team through the voice-over-internet connections purchased through Brescia.
Pakistani authorities have identified Sheikhupura resident Abdul Wajid as “Zarar Shah,” and charged him with organising these transactions. However, Pakistan has refused to allow the FBI access to Wajid, raising suspicions that he may in fact be a relatively low-level operative. It has also so far failed to provide Wajid’s voice samples, which would allow them to be matched against the audio in the intercepted phone calls.
Despite an official request, Indian authorities have also been denied photographs of Wajid, which would allow the Mumbai police to confirm if he is indeed the individual known as Zarar Shah to jihadists who met him in the past—among them alleged Indian Mujahideen co-founder Sadiq Israr Sheikh.
Both Indian and U.S.investigators have also been denied access to two other key suspects, Lashkar military chief Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and his deputy, Mazhar Iqbal.
For the most part, Pakistan’s action against the top leadership of the Lashkar has been marked by indifference.
Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, head of the Lashkar’s parent religious-political group, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, has never been prosecuted for leading the organisation that carried out the attacks.
Muzammil Bhat, the Lashkar’s top military commander, remains at large, though intercepted phone calls show he remains in touch with Lashkar units across Pakistan.
In recent weeks, new leads have begun to emerge, with the arrests of Lashkar operatives Ronald Headley and Tahawwur Rana in Chicago—men India believes may have carried out pre-attack reconnaissance for the assault team.
“But without full cooperation from Pakistan,” a senior Indian intelligence official told The Hindu, “it is profoundly unlikely we’ll ever know the full picture.”