For the best part of a year, Italian investigators watched patiently over a nondescript business in Brescia, hoping two men who played a critical role in guiding the terrorists to their targets in Mumbai last November would one day show up.
On Saturday, their patience paid off.
Pakistani nationals Mohammad Yaqub Janijua and his son aren’t jihadists. Neither man had never, as far as anyone knows, ever held a gun or recruited operatives. Indeed, intelligence sources in New Delhi told The Hindu, it was not certain whether they were aware that the money they wired to the United States a day before last year’s tragic attacks in Mumbai was linked to terrorism.
But their business, the Madina Trading Corporation, was willing to make international wire-transfer payments without demanding identification papers — an illegal but commonplace practice that serves not just terrorists, but also illegal immigrants without travel documents and businesses seeking to evade taxes.
The Italian police’s investment of significant resources in the hunt for the owners of the Madina Trading Agency, who fled Italy soon after news broke that their business had been used to wire money by the terrorists, reflects a growing realisation of key role apparently-petty criminality can have in facilitating catastrophic acts of terrorism.
Just as important, European police forces are starting to understand that such practices pose risks not just to distant countries — but to their own heartland.
Cash for carnage
Much of the story of the Brescia wire transfer has long been public knowledge.
Based on evidence passed on by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pakistan had charged Spanish resident Javed Iqbal with having wired $238 to U.S.-based voice-over-internet service provider Callphonex.
Paperwork for the wire transfer was falsified to make it appear that the funds had been sent by an individual who never travelled to Italy.
Funds were separately wired from Karachi, in Pakistan, to the United States to open a separate set of voice-over-internet accounts. The individual who made the wire transfer is yet to be identified by Pakistani authorities.
Iqbal travelled from his home in Barcelona to Brescia to make the transfer, possibly because he was aware that the Madina Trading Corporation would agree to make the illegal funds transfer. Later, Pakistani authorities lured him home, where he is now facing trial for his role in the carnage.
Both sets of voice-over-internet accounts were used by Pakistan-based Lashkar commanders to guide the fidayeen squads which carried out the attacks to their targets, and then control the course of the operation.
India’s intelligence services suspect — but have been unable to prove — that the transfer was arranged by the Lashkar’s commander for transcontinental operations, Sajid Mir.
Mir has a long record of involvements in operations routed through, or targeting, Europe and Australia.
French national Willie Brigitte, who trained at a Lashkar-e-Taiba camp in 2001-2002, was tasked by Mir to execute attacks against targets in Australia. In May, 2003, United Kingdom-based Lashkar financier Shahzad Ashraf routed funds from Mir for Brigitte’s finally-unsuccessful operation.
Brigitte collected the money from two Paris-based Pakistani nationals Maradi Din Sheikh and Hussain Fazal. Both men were linked to Ghulam Mustafa Rama, who was later convicted for sending several French men to Lashkar training camps.
Richard Reid, an al-Qaeda linked terrorist who attempted to blow up a Paris-Miami flight in December 2001, is also thought to have had contact with Rama.
Reid received extensive funding to travel across the world studying airport security procedures,
French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere, whose new book Ce que je n’ai pas pu dire (What I could not say) has made new disclosures on the Lashkar’s European operations, is among the growing ranks of European security experts who believe the Pakistan-based terror group poses a global threat.
“Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistani movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of the al-Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand violence worldwide,” he told Reuters correspondent Myra McDonald in a recent interview.