Praveen Swami

Lashkar financier Ali al-Hooti was in India days before the November attack

MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: Investigators have determined that a top Oman-based jihad financier was in Mumbai days before the November terror attacks, raising the possibility that elements of the operation might have been paid for by Lashkar-e-Taiba supporters in West Asia.

Muscat businessman Ali Abdul Aziz al-Hooti, who was sentenced to life by an Oman court last month for his role in plotting the bombing of offices, hotels and a spa, visited Mumbai between November 10 and 17, sources in the Maharashtra police told The Hindu. In his visa application, al-Hooti claimed that he wanted to visit relatives in the town of Miraj. Al-Hooti’s mother, the sources said, was of Maharashtra origin.

The police in Oman and India have determined that al-Hooti had direct links with several key suspects in the attack.

Most significant among them is Fahim Arshad Ansari, the alleged Lashkar intelligence officer, who is being tried on charges of having generated the videotape of Mumbai’s streetscapes used to train the assault team.

In a statement made to the Uttar Pradesh police early last year, which the Indian law excludes from use as evidence, Mumbai resident Ansari said his training had been facilitated by a Lashkar operative he identified as Mohammad Jassem.

Jassem, Ansari allegedly said, arranged his transit through Dubai and Oman on his way to a Lashkar camp in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The Oman authorities have now discovered that Jassem was the link between al-Hooti and the Lashkar headquarters in Pakistan.

Jassem was held, along with al-Hooti, in raids carried out in Muscat early this year, but there has been no public word on his trial.

Al-Hooti and Jassem are also thought to have arranged the training of Ali Asshama, a Maldivian national who, along with Bangladesh-based Lashkar commander Faisal Haroun, helped to set up the Lashkar’s Indian Ocean networks. Haroun is thought to have played a key role in crafting the 2006 landing of assault rifles meant for use in a terror attack in Gujarat, as well as an abortive 2007 effort to land eight Lashkar fidayeen off Mumbai.

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