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The field narrows, the noose tightens

Recent arrests point to welcome progress in the evolution of India’s counter-terror capabilities.

The capture of Yasin Bhatkal by Indian intelligence officials on Wednesday represents an important milestone in India’s counter-terrorism efforts. Yasin Bhatkal played a pivotal role in the Bangalore, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and other bomb blasts in India and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Indian citizens.  This article in the Indian Express summarizes the extent of his crimes against the country:

Yasin Bhatkal is wanted in at least eight cases in Maharashtra, of which four involve blasts or terror conspiracies. He is named as a wanted accused in the Mumbai blasts of July 13, 2011, as the bomb-planter in the 2010 blast at Pune’s German Bakery, where he was seen in CCTV footage, and as an accused in an aborted attempt (by Qateel Siddiqui, since dead) at planting a bomb at a temple in Pune. In August 2012, the state ATS named Yasin a wanted accused for a conspiracy to carry out blasts across the state.

He is also wanted in connection with a fake SIM card racket, the theft of two motorbikes for the 13/7 blasts, and will also be booked for the theft of cars from Navi Mumbai that were used to plant bombs in Ahmedabad and Surat.

[Himayat] Baig and Yasin allegedly carried the explosives to Pune in a series of  vehicles. “Yasin planted the bomb in a haversack at the bakery around 5 pm and triggered it with the help of a mobile triggering device at 6.50 pm,” the chargesheet says. Baig has been sentenced to death and has appealed in High Court.

Yasin Bhatkal was allegedly involved in the twin bomb blasts at Dilsukhnagar on February 21 this year, and those at Gokul Chat Bhandar and Lumbini Park in 2007. The AP anti-terror agency Octopus had filed three chargesheets in May and June 2009, named Yasin and the Bhatkal brothers. The NIA, which is investigating the 2013 blasts, is believed to have procured CCTV footage showing a man resembling Yasin carrying a bag in which the explosives may have been. [Indian Express]

Further interrogation of Yasin Bhatkal will provide law enforcement agencies in India with valuable insight into the Indian Mujahideen’s organization and structure, domestic and international support structures (including ties with SIMI, LeT and the ISI), training and sources of funding and inspiration.  These may in turn equip us to better combat terrorism in the country.

It is needless to say here that the threat of terrorism in India will not diminish merely as a result of Bhatkal’s arrest.  First, as far as we can tell, the IM, unlike the LeT for example, is a largely loosely-knit collection of disgruntled domestic actors with no real central command and control, supported though they may be from outside India.  Other IM key operatives Abdus Subhan and brothers Riyaz and Iqbal Bhatkal remain elusive.  These actors will continue to plan attacks against India and its interests.  Indian citizens continue to be recruited, both at home and abroad, to carry out attacks in India.

Second, the jihadi ideologues who nurture and sponsor the IM continue to operate with impunity from Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Until their ability to instruct and fund terrorism in India is significantly disrupted, the potential for attacks in India will not diminish.  It isn’t likely that this is about to happen; in fact, there is every indication that the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan intends to refocus its efforts on India once the U.S. winds down operations in Afghanistan.

Third, India’s intelligence and state and central law enforcement agencies continue to suffer from a lack of resources (technical as well as human), funding and coordination.  These are structural challenges that need to be addressed to counter current and future threats to the country.

The good news for India is that Yasin Bhatkal’s arrest, as well as those of Abdul Karim TundaAbdul Sattar and Abu Hamza, tells us that India’s much-maligned intelligence and law enforcement agencies are slowly making progress in developing capacities to counter terrorism directed at India.  These arrests, taken together, point to a process now being in place, with the cooperation and assistance of foreign governments, to track and extradite individuals involved in terrorism in India. Thus, the immunity that terrorists once enjoyed merely by taking a flight out of India no longer appears to be guaranteed.  And this progress in the evolution of India’s counter-terrorism capabilities is welcome.

That some of these foreign governments that we now appear to have an understanding with would not want to be named works to the advantage of both the foreign governments and India.  Indeed, the lack of public acknowledgement of cooperating with India allows these foreign governments to protect sensitive relations with countries in our neighborhood. For India, the lack of full public disclosure also enables our intelligence agencies to protect sources and methods, allowing us to track and extradite other terrorist operatives absconding from India.  The field narrows, the noose tightens.

 

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Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest

Indian agencies have known Mr. Fai was up to no-good for ages.

We’re just being made aware of the arrest in the U.S. of Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director of the Kashmiri-American Council (KAC) for allegedly being on the payroll of the ISI and hiding millions of dollars for illegal lobbying.  A second individual, Zaheer Ahmed, has also been charged.  The FBI affidavit cites that Mr. Fai conspired “to act as an agent of a foreign principal…to falsify, conceal, and cover up materials by tricks, schemes, and devices…” (FBI affidavit, LT @Colinfreeze).

As it turns out, Mr. Fai is no stranger to the FBI.  When questioned in 2007, he contented that he had “never met anyone who identified himself as being affiliated with the ISI.”  Mr. Fai has long been at the forefront of the “Kashmir movement” in the U.S., portraying himself as a Kashmiri-American champion of “the Cause,” independent of any affiliation of Pakistan or its agencies.  In fact, CBS-affiliate KNX 1070’s news report this morning on the arrest identified Mr. Fai as a “Virginia man.”

But Indian security agencies have long confirmed Mr. Fai’s nexus with Pakistan’s ISI.  A 2004 Times of India report on the mysterious death of Hasimuddin, former aide to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, revealed the relationship between Mr. Fai, the Tehrik-e-Hurriyat and the ISI (emphasis added):

This is part of Islamabad’s plan to secure a place for Tehriq-e-Hurriyat in the talks to decide the fate of J&K on the ground that the secessionist outfit was the true representative of ‘Kashmiris’.

Those behind the plan have gone about its execution with clinical precision. Hasimuddin had been managing the funds of Tehriq-e-Hurriyat after he was ousted from the All Party Hurriyat Conference, as its secretary. But Geelani had replaced him recently.  The outfit was getting funds from the ISI and also from Saudi Arabia. Most of the funds were routed through the US-based Kashmir American Council of Ghulam Nabi Fai or the UK-based Ayub Thakar who died recently, sources said. [Times of India]

The arrest of Mr. Fai only confirms what India knows about how the ISI plays the game on Kashmir; with a mixture of subterfuge, political grandstanding, and of course, sub-conventional warfare against India, through a network of carefully cultivated intermediaries and proxies.

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