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Archive | September, 2011

The Delhi terror trail

Some thoughts on the HuJI & IM emails, and the on-going investigation.

Investigation into the heinous attack on the Delhi High Court that left 11 dead and several injured has begun.  At the center of this investigation are two emails alleged to have been sent by Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) and, subsequently, by the Indian Mujahideen (IM).

The email alleged to have been sent by HuJI was via Gmail.  Based on this article by DNA, NIA and Delhi Police investigating the terrorist attack traced the email to a cybercafe in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir.  The owner of the cybercafe, Mehmood Khawja and two others are reportedly being questioned.

A couple of important points need to be noted about the ongoing investigation.  First, Gmail is a free, web-based service provided by Google, whose mail servers reside in the U.S.  As such, these mail servers and the data they contain are subject to U.S. law. In the event that the Government of India would need access to any of this information, it would need to make a formal request, justifying its need to access a third party’s data, to Google via the U.S. government 1.  If this has indeed happened and has resulted in India obtaining data pertinent to this email, then it bodes very well for the Indo-US counter-terror cooperation.

This is especially impressive, since Indian investigators were able to gain access to the alleged HuJI mail account within the span of 3 hours (the email was sent 3 hours after the blast and investigators had access to the account’s password 3 hours subsequent to that, as indicated in DNA’s account).  Now, it is entirely also possible that Indian investigators were able to guess the account’s password, but the gut feeling of this blogger is that the explanation provided by NIA and Delhi Police stretches credulity.

Next, Toral Varia, journalist with Rediff has a good comparative analysis of the emails sent by HuJI and IM to ones previously sent by these groups.  The article points out discrepancies in typefacing and format — even spelling (the IM email misspelled mujahideen as “Muzahideen.”) — from threats previously received from these groups.  Therefore, it would appear that these emails were sent by people who may have not had prior knowledge about a pending attack on Delhi High Court.

It must be noted that Indian Mujahideen has sent as many as five emails claiming responsibilities for various attacks. All the emails were drafted with precision using PDF files, various fonts and colours, Urdu script, a proper signature, a well researched list of recipients, and sent minutes after a terror attack was executed. All the mails were signed by ‘Al ARBI.’

Content for the Indian Mujahideen mails was usually written in impeccable English, interspersed with the verses from the holy Koran, a picture of the Gujarat carnage, references to ‘atrocities on Muslims’ amongst other inflammatory literature.

However, one look at both the emails, that have been sent claiming and counter claiming responsibilities for Wednesday’s blast, and the first impression is that the mails have perhaps been sent by an amateur. [Rediff]

At the same time, it is also equally important to not discredit these leads based on prima facie evidence.  Unfortunately, some TV news anchors are dismissing these emails as “prank emails.” It would be dangerous to categorize them as such.  Now, the fact the senders of the HuJI email were traced down as quickly as they apparently were leads us to believe that the senders weren’t very technically adept.

Those who follow the modi operandi of jihadi groups know that the first rule that today’s terrorist learns is cyber cover and concealment.  This might possibly indicate that the senders of the email were either not very well trained, or not directly linked to the perpetrators of the attack.  However, this shouldn’t necessarily mean that these correspondences were “prank emails,” as the entire purpose of the emails might have been to deliberately mislead investigators.

Finally, we must recognize that we must give investigators the time and space to fully and thoroughly investigate the attack. Delhi Police has been (quite fairly) criticized for not learning from the lessons of the past and not taking the necessary precautionary measures to deter the attack.  We also know all too well that not one terror attack in India since 2005 has been resolved.  But at the same time, let’s not play judge, jury and executioner before we’ve given the NIA and DP the opportunity to investigate.  In this regard, the media should take it upon itself to play a more constructive role.

1 Some readers have brought Google’s “User Data Requirements” (LT vinay and @_g0nz0_) to my attention. It would appear that Google has established processes allowing governments to access private user data. Based on the language, it appears to be broad enough to access to email, without the involvement of the U.S. However, both GoI and Google would have to be astonishingly effective were the entire process, from request to receipt, accomplished within the span of 3 hours.

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Urdunama: Khas Dost

Once upon a time, there lived two best friends…

Javed Chaudhry, Urdu columnist on The Express, had written an interesting article the Joint Fighter (JF-17) multi-role combat aircraft, purported to be the result of a Sino-Pakistan defense project.  The Filter Coffee has pointed out previously, how this “all-weather” friendship between China and Pakistan is a elaborate farce that has fooled no one.  Pakistan has entered into deals with China only when other avenues were closed, and China, fully cognizant of Pakistan’s plight, has maximized its own gains to Pakistan’s detriment.  An old article by Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa reinforces this point.

Mr. Chaudhry narrates the circumstances behind the Sino-Pakistan JF-17 project (اردو).  LT @muladhara for bringing this article to my attention.

Air Marshall Shahid Latif is a decorated officer of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).  In January 1983, he became one of the first in the PAF to receive training on flying F-16s in the U.S.  He was also responsible for initiating Pakistan’s bid to purchase F-16s from the U.S. In 2000, Air Marshall Latif was put in charge of  the JF-17 [Joint Fighter] project, which was initiated in 1994 with the assistance of China.  The project was meant to be a joint venture with a Chinese firm, CATIC.  China and Pakistan hoped to joint-manufacture the jet to meet their defense needs and supply JF-17s to interested countries.

Pakistan felt compelled to enter into an agreement with China because Pakistan was unable to replace its aging fighter aircraft after being ostracized by the U.S. for “supporting terror groups,” after the Afghanistan war.  PAF faced the possibility of becoming a spent force, following the U.S.’s embargo and the obsolescence of its own aircraft.  Thus, in 1994, the Benazir Bhutto administration entered into an agreement with China to co-manufacture JF-17 aircraft.  However, no progress was made due to international pressure and Pakistan’s own economic situation.  The project was restarted in 2000, with Air Marshall Latif at the helm, and within three years, the JF-17 made its first successful test flight.

After JF-17’s success, PAF labeled Air Marshall Latif the “AQ Khan of the JF-17.”  The project envisaged Pakistan and China contributing 58% and 42% respectively to manufacture components needed for the aircraft, which was expected to rival the F-16.  Air Marshall Latif was expected to rise to the post of Chief of Air Staff after the success of this project; however, due to pressure from an unnamed country, another individual superseded him to the post.

After the new Chief of Air Staff took command, plans of the joint venture to co-manufacture JF-17s were abandoned.  Instead, Pakistan entered into an agreement with CATIC to purchase the aircraft [thus altering the nature of the project and the relationship between the two parties].  The original cost of the project was expected to be $1 billion (Pakistan hoped to manufacture 250 JF-17s).  As part of this new agreement, Pakistan obtained a loan, again from CATIC, at an interest rate of 7% to purchase these aircraft in 2008.  The terms of this loan were excessive, given the world economic crisis and the fact that Pakistan had just entered into another loan agreement with CATIC at a considerable price for an aviation system.  As a result, Pakistan was compelled to sign the purchase agreement with CATIC on March 18, 2009, at a final price of $10 billion. [The Express]


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