India clueless on top al-Qaeda leader’s visit

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is seen after a raid in Pakistan. File Photo: AP   | Photo Credit: AP

Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly had tactical control of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, made at least one visit to India in 1996, documents show.

But, The Hindu has found, India’s intelligence services made no effort to determine when he came, what travel documents he used, where he stayed and with whom he met with.

The Union Home Ministry has blamed lax visa procedures for the clandestine reconnaissance by Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley prior to the November 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba Mumbai terror attacks. But the poor investigative follow-up of Mohammed’s visit suggests there are serious systemic gaps in the country’s internal security.

Mohammed’s visit to India has been public knowledge for several years. Following a meeting with Osama bin-Laden in mid-1996, the official Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States says, Mohammed “journeyed onward to India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.”


Later, in the now-declassified testimony given to the Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo Bay on March 10, 2007, Mohammed admitted he was “responsible for surveying and financing the destruction of the Israeli embassy in India, Azerbaijan, the Philippines and Indonesia.”

In Malaysia, Mohammed met with Jemaah Islamiyyah chief Riduaan Islamuddin, forging an alliance that provided the foundation for several terrorist attacks across East Asia and the west. And in the Philippines, he set up “Operation Bojinka,” a plot to blow up 12 airliners carrying passengers from Asia to the U.S.

But Indian investigators failed to explore evidence that corroborates Mohammed’s claims that al-Qaeda was engaged in targeting India prior to the September 11 attacks.

Back in August 2001, the Delhi Police filed charges against Sudan national Abdul Raouf Hawas for conspiring to blow up the U.S. embassy in New Delhi. Hawas, the police claimed, was linked to al-Qaeda operative Muhammed Omar al-Harazi, also known as Abdul Rehman al-Safani.

Pakistani Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami operative Qamar Mohammad Ayub, held by the Jammu and Kashmir Police in December, 2001, was also alleged to have been working to facilitate an al-Qaeda attack on the Israeli mission in New Delhi.

Many jihadist leaders in the past have escaped scrutiny by Indian immigration and internal security authorities.

For example, Jaish-e-Mohammad leader Mohammad Masood Azhar arrived in New Delhi from Dhaka, using an illegally-obtained Portuguese passport, on January 29, 1994. “The duty officer at the Indira Gandhi airport,” he later told interrogators, “commented that I did not look Portuguese. However, when I told him I was Gujarati by birth, he did not hesitate to stamp my passport.”

Lack of surveillance meant that no credible prosecution could be mounted against the jihadist leader, who was eventually released in a hostages-for-prisoners swap after the hijacking of an Indian Airlines jet in 1999.

Lashkar-e-Taiba financier Mahmoud Mohammad Ahmed Bahaziq, a Saudi Arabia national, later sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council, also travelled in and out of India until at least 1999. He is known to have met with Lashkar clandestine operative Mohammad Ishtiq at the President Hotel in Mumbai. Precisely how Bahaziq obtained an Indian visa remains unknown.

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 3:37:25 AM |

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