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Updated: March 16, 2010 02:49 IST

Mumbai arrests cast light on jihadist-mafia nexus

Praveen Swami
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Bashir Khan, a lieutenant of Dawood Ibrahim.
The Hindu Bashir Khan, a lieutenant of Dawood Ibrahim.

Dawood Ibrahim Kaksar believed in the kind of paradise built with bricks and hard cash.

His last known home in Karachi sprawled across 6,000-square metres, complete with a private swimming pool, gym and tennis courts. In the evenings, he would travel in a car picked from his fleet of Mercedes, clad in designer suits, a $1,000 Patek Philippe watch on his wrist, for all-night orgies.

“Dawood and his companions,” the Pakistani investigative journalist Ghulam Husnain recorded in a 2001 exposé, “quit only at dawn and collectively offer Fajr [dawn] prayers.”

For years, India's intelligence services have been watching the emergence and flowering of a curious alliance between Dawood Ibrahim's Karachi-based organised crime empire and Pakistan's jihadists: men driven by the belief that the sacrifice of life in god's name will unlock the gates of a very different kind of paradise.

Last week's arrest of Mumbai residents Abdul Latif Sheikh and Riyaz Ali for plotting terror attacks on Mumbai has once again focussed attention on these linkages. Bashir Khan, a Dawood lieutenant wanted for his role in planning the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai, is alleged to have recruited the two men and supervised their operations.

Driven by their common pursuit of power and legitimacy, enabled by decades of communal violence, and orchestrated by Pakistan's feared Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the alliance enabled the emergence of a jihadist movement drawn from India's cities — and continues to do so.

The ISI-Dawood nexus

Dawood's alliance with the ISI began as a desperate effort to protect his empire. Estimate suggests that until 1991 Dawood's organised crime networks smuggled almost 200 tonnes of gold into India each year. However, the liberalisation of gold imports in 1992 led to the collapse of this enterprise.

Pakistani narcotics traffickers Yusuf Godhrawala and Taufiq Jallianwala are believed to have carried overtures from the ISI in 1992, offering Dawood a share in their trade in return for funnelling weapons into India.

By most accounts, Dawood initially resisted the pressure. After the anti-Muslim violence that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid, though, hardline members of his networks like Mushtaq Abdul Razzak ‘Tiger' Memon are believed to have demanded retaliation.

In January 1993, Dawood ordered his lieutenants to act. “Dawood Ibrahim exhorted us to rise in rebellion against the Hindus,” recalled gangster Salim Mirza Sheikh — known in Mumbai's underworld as ‘Salim Kutta,' or Salim the Dog — in a statement to police.

Hundreds of kilograms of military-grade explosives, along with assault rifles and grenades provided by the ISI, were landed off the Maharashtra coast in early 1993. Bashir Khan played a key role in the operation — as well as the serial bombings which followed.

The jihadist link

In the years that followed, Dawood's alliance with jihadists in Pakistan flowered. In October 2003, the United States Treasury Department determined that the crime syndicate's “smuggling routes from South Asia, the Middle East and Africa are shared with Osama bin-Laden and his terrorist network.” Dawood Ibrahim had also “financially supported Islamic militant groups working against India, such as [the] Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

Last year, the USTD sanctioned al-Qaeda linked Lashkar-e-Taiba commander Arif Kasmani for multiple operations, “including the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, and the February 2007 Samjota [Samjhauta] Express bombing in Panipat.” The Treasury added that Qasmani utilised “money that he received from Dawood Ibrahim, an Indian crime figure and terrorist supporter, to facilitate the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai.”

Inside India, two separate organised crime networks operating under Dawood Ibrahim's patronage began working to lay the foundations for the multiple Lashkar-linked Indian jihadist networks, now known as the Indian Mujahideen.

Early in 2002, Dawood-affiliated gangster Asif Raza Khan was killed in a shootout with the Gujarat police. His brother, Amir Raza Khan, swore revenge. In the wake of the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, Khan tied up with Indian Mujahideen commander Riyaz Shahbandri to send dozens of volunteers from Maharashtra and Gujarat to jihadist training camps in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Shahbandri's politics was deeply influenced by his brother Iqbal Bhatkal, a neo-conservative preacher, and Shafiq Ahmad, a relative who went on to head the Students Islamic Movement of India's chapter in Mumbai. Khan, by contrast, had no religious inclinations. Both jihadists and the underworld cooperated in the common cause of winning legitimacy among the riot-hit community.

Karachi-based ganglord Rasool Khan ‘Party'— another long-standing Dawood vassal — played a similar role, working with Hyderabad-based cleric Maulana Mohammad Naseeruddin and Ahmedabad seminary chief Maulana Sufiyan Patangia. More than a dozen men from Hyderabad and Ahmedabad were eventually flown to Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami training camps in Pakistan — routed through Karachi, where Rasool Khan and Patangia are now hiding out.

Dawood Ibrahim's organised crime networks continue to provide both finance and logistics assistance to jihadists. In a report released earlier this month, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group noted that the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh's networks were closely linked to fake-currency networks run by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, with Dawood Ibrahim's assistance.

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