Al Qaeda betrayed an unknown inner face in last month’s bombings in New Delhi – as well as baring its long and sinister roots.
A breakthrough in the Indian investigation of the blasts, that left 65 dead and more than 300 injured in two markets and a bus, led, astonishingly, to a notorious gangster, his Bollywood film star wife and a prominent Kashmiri journalist. These prime movers for al Qaeda proved to be urbane types, far removed from the wild-eyed students and tribal fanatics in caves who are commonly seen as jihadist stereotypes.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources reveal this and other startling discoveries which are surfacing in the Indian investigation.
Through a data crosscheck with the American Central Intelligence Agency, the Indian CBI intelligence service learned that two shadowy Pakistan-based Arabs, known only by their pseudonyms of Abu Hufeza and Abu Karma, pulled the wires behind the 2005 New Delhi operation. They first popped up in CIA files in connection with an apparently unrelated 12-year old episode – al Qaeda’s first attack on New York’s Twin Towers in 1993. Then, 6 people were killed and 1,000 injured, by a truck bomb explosion in the parking area.
‘The CIA then put Abu Hufeza and Abu Karma on a back burner as al Qaeda’s liaison officers with its Kashmiri branch, Lashkar e-Toiba. The Twin Towers attack was attributed to al Qaeda’s Asian network, based in the Philippines and Pakistan. The New York bomber, Ramzi Yousef, fled to Pakistan, which later handed him over for trial in the United States and so brought that episode to its conclusion.
However, in the hue and cry after al Qaeda’s first strike on American soil, little attention was paid to the blast which followed after less than two weeks in Mumbai’s (then called Bombay) financial district, which cost 250 lives and left 1,400 wounded.
This attack was attributed at the time to the infamous Indian gangster Abu Salem.
The mobster, the actress and the journalist
No one connected the 1993 New York and Bombay 1993 episodes – until the 2005 New Delhi probe got underway. But now, the discovery that in 1993 Abu Salem received the explosives for the Bombay blast from none other than Abu Hufeza and Abu Karma has suddenly exposed him as an undercover al Qaeda agent or contractor.
The two Arabs turn out to be the missing links connecting all three episodes, proving that the same al Qaeda Asian network has been in business for at least twelve years, under the same two controllers.
In 1993, al Qaeda used top criminal Abu Salem abetted by his actress wife Monica Bedi to mastermind an attack. In 2003, a prominent Kashmiri Muslim journalist, Tariq Ahmed Dar, was recruited.
The 1993 New York and Bombay attacks now appear in a completely new light, as an ambitious early plot by al Qaeda to disrupt the financial systems of two world powers in coordinated attacks on two continents two weeks apart, at Wall Street and an Asian financial center.
The method of coordinated bomb attacks was perfected over the years and came to be an al Qaeda hallmark.
This network has been partly blown, but how many more are still hidden from sight in India? They may be operating in the most unlikely corners of this vast subcontinent under the most improbable covers – possibly in the guise of celebrities in their fields.
The New Delhi breakthrough opened a window for the first time on al Qaeda’s mode of operations in southern Asia, notably India, and made it possible to distinguish between the methods employed on the different continents.
In North America, al Qaeda infiltrates Middle Eastern and North African operatives, whereas inside the Middle East, local national cells are used.
This pattern has been seen in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. However, in India and Kashmir, the jihadists operate through the most improbable vehicles, as was discovered in the New Delhi investigation.
He dictated Bollywood film casting
In the wake of their fruitful exchange of data, American and Indian counter-terror agencies arranged a distribution of labor to track down the instigators of the New Delhi bombing. The US agency undertook to seek the extradition of al Qaeda network members outside India, while the CBI rounded up suspects inside the country.
The first American objective was to obtain the extradition from Portugal of Abu Salem and Monica Bedi who had been living in Lisbon from 2002 after escaping from Kenya, Nairobi, ahead of capture.
For the first seven years after the Bombay attack, Abu Salem and Bedi were safe in India although the police worked hard to bring them to justice.
The good-looking, Bombay-born crime boss headed a gang of Indian Muslims which controlled sections of India’s sprawling film industry by extortion and murder. He became powerful enough to force directors and producers into casting choices. His spies inside the Indian police and security agency tipped him off in time to escape arrest. Monica Bedi, a Hindi, who with his backing rose to become a film and television star, was also his partner in crime.
In time, as she climbed the ladder in the film industry, she became his confidante and close collaborator, privy to his criminal connections as well as the Pakistani contacts which led him to al Qaeda.
The Portuguese government and courts were not sympathetic to the pressing US request for their extradition, fearing reprisals by Abu Salem’s criminal or al Qaeda confederates. They relented after viewing the US intelligence dossiers presented which implicated the wanted couple in two disastrous terrorist attacks in India.
Thursday, November 10, Abu Salem and Monica Bedi, having giving their Indian pursuers a long run for their money, were finally handed over.
Indian security closes in on the prime mover
Two days later, Indian special forces and anti-terror units raided a palatial mansion in Solina, north of the Kashmir capital of Srinagar. There they arrested the Kashmiri journalist Tariq Ahmed Dar as the alleged mastermind of the New Delhi bombing attacks.
Far from being an unknown terrorist living underground, Tariq Dar was a well-known journalist who earned a good living as reporter for the Mount Valley Magazine published in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. His controller, Javed Sheikh, was another reporter for the same publication. When the magazine closed down in 2003, Tariq Dar landed the well-paid salesmanship of Johnson and Johnson baby products.
Javed also moved on – not into the business world but to become divisional commander of the extremist Hizbul Muhahideen. He later switched to Lashkar e-Toiba.
It was then that he introduced Tariq Dar to Abu Hufeza.
When Javed Sheikh was killed in an encounter with Indian security forces in 2003, Tariq Dar took his place and became the Lashkar e-Toiba spokesman in the Valley.
Last April he was arrested with a grenade and Saudi money in his possession, but managed to secure bail for his release after 32 days.
The New Delhi bombing was assigned him by Abu Hufeza.
After checking into a hotel near one of the targeted markets of New Delhi on October 4, Tariq Dar met the four bombers three times. He took part in pinpointing the Paharganj market, Sarojininagar and the DTC bus, which were blown up on October 29.
It was Tariq Dar who made the telephone call with the misleading information that the obscure Inquilabi Mahaz was responsible for the attacks.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources reveal that Indian and US intelligence were led to Tariq Dar by his contacts with Abu Hufeza, one of the two al Qaeda controllers who gave Abu Salem the explosives for the Bombay attack in 1993.
Terror funding still comes from Saudi sources
They were known to the CIA as the senior al Qaeda operational liaison officers with the Pakistani-Kashmir Muslim Lashkar e-Toiba – but that was all.
This round of successes yielded another key discovery, namely that the 2005 New Delhi operation was funded from Saudi Arabia.
Large sums in Saudi riyals were found in Tareq Dar’s possession and in transfers to his bank accounts in Solina and Srinagar.
Notwithstanding all the efforts the US government and Saudi royal house have made to block the flow of money to Islamist terrorists, it continues to reach the terrorists four years after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks in New York. It seems there is no way to stop a private Saudi donation from being forwarded to a Muslim charity in, say, Srinagar.
What remains now is to lay hands on the two big al Qaeda fish who set the New Delhi attack in motion, Abu Hufeza and Abu Karma. This is proving to be a tough proposition.
Our sources report that the intelligence data incriminating the two key figures of the network in the attack was put before Pakistani president General Pervez Musharref – just as it was to the Portuguese authorities. They are believed to be hiding in one of Pakistan’s big towns from where they flit in and out of Kashmir.
Musharraf was asked to detain the pair, both believed to be Pakistani citizens. He has not yet responded. Our sources in New Delhi and Islamabad report that in secret top-level exchanges between the two governments, the Pakistani president may be willing to turn the two over against a pledge of non-publicity. This suggests he may know or suspect their whereabouts.
Initial questioning of Tariq Dar and Abu Salem has confirmed the intelligence link-up of the 1993 and 2005 bombing attacks and their shared supplier of explosives – albeit 12 years apart: Abu Hufeza and/or Abu Karma. They have also admitted that one or two of the New Delhi bombers were neither Indian nor Pakistani but Arab followers of al Qaeda.
The Indian investigators have come to believe that all four were suicide bombers.