Diaspora cash fed domestic jihad
Praveen Swami,May 08, 2009, The Hindu
|Kerala computer engineer’s story casts light on Indian Mujahideen funding
Nawaz’s journey into jihad began in SIMI’s study groups
India so far had little success in cracking down on terror financing
HYDERABAD: Late last year, four Keralites training with a Lashkar-e-Taiba unit in the Kupwara mountains, along the Line of Control in northern Kashmir, were shot dead by security forces.
And since the September shootout, the police in Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have been scrambling to unravel the threads that tied Indian Mujahideen groups in the south to each other and to the Lashkar.
But the investigations also show that the Indian Mujahideen was fed and watered by transnational financial networks: networks linked both to diasporic Islamists living in west Asia and Pakistan-based organisations like the Lashkar.
From the story of Ernakulam-born computer engineer Sarfaraz Nawaz, who was expelled by the Oman authorities earlier this year, investigators have been able to understand the relationship between domestic terror and diaspora cash.
Like so many Indian Mujahideen-linked figures, Nawaz’s journey into jihad began in the Students Islamic Movement of India’s study groups.
Nawaz began attending SIMI meetings in 1995, soon after he graduated from high school. He became an “Ikhwan” or full-time SIMI member within a year and by March 2000 was made a member of the now-proscribed Islamist organisation’s central committee.
While in New Delhi, where he also served as the SIMI’s office secretary, Nawaz developed a close relationship with several key members of what would later become the organisation’s jihad faction, including Safdar Nagori, Yahya Kamakutty and Peedical Abdul Shibly.
When the SIMI was proscribed in 2001, Nawaz decided to move abroad. He first found work in a computer firm operating out of Ibra, in Oman, and later joined the Ajman-based Ibn Sina Medical Centre, which was owned by the former Kerala SIMI president Abdul Ghafoor.
Later, other SIMI contacts helped him to find a job in Dubai. Finally, in July 2006 Nawaz moved back to Muscat and began working at the al-Noor Education Trust, which offered computer courses.
Newly married and prosperous, Nawaz appeared to live the kind of quiet life most in the Indian diaspora aspire to. But the Oman authorities now believe the appearance was intended to deceive.
Soon after returning to Muscat, the investigators say, Nawaz made contact with Abdul Aziz al-Hooti, a Muscat-based businessman with substantial interests in the automobile business and the Lashkar. Hooti, in turn, introduced Nawaz to a ranking Pakistani Lashkar operative, who is so far known only by the aliases Rehan and Wali.
Early in 2008, the police in Hyderabad and Bangalore believe, Nawaz and Rehan met in Dubai to finalise funding for two important “projects.”
In Hyderabad, fugitive Indian Mujahideen commander Tadiyantavide Nasir was preparing several Keralites to journey across the Line of Control to Lashkar training camps in Pakistan.
Nasir used his position as an instructor at the city’s Jamia Arifiya Nooriya seminary to recruit volunteers. He set up a safe house in Madikere, near Coorg, for their basic indoctrination.
In August, 2008, Rehan allegedly provided the funds and contacts that led the first group of volunteers’ travel to Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian Mujahideen units also needed funding, Nawaz was told, to execute a series of bombings in Bangalore.
Rehan and Hooti, the Bangalore police say, asked Nawaz to travel to India for an on-site briefing about these plans. Both men were evidently impressed by what he found, for an estimated 2,500 Oman Rials was despatched to the Indian Mujahideen through a Kannur-based hawala dealer.
Later, the investigators say, Dhaka-based Lashkar operative Mubashir Shahid provided more money to secure Nasir’s escape into Bangladesh and to compensate the families of the men killed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Police officers involved in the Nawaz investigation believe that several similar funding networks fed different elements of the Indian Mujahideen.
Indian Mujahideen co-founder Sadiq Sheikh, for example, lived in Dubai for several months with the help of ganglord Aftab Ansari and his lieutenant Amir Reza Khan. During his stay, Sheikh said in a statement to the Hyderabad Police, he discovered that key Indian Mujahideen commander Riyaz Ismail Shahbandri also visited the city to raise funds.
Sheikh never met with Shahbandri’s contacts, but it seems likely that Nawaz himself was in touch with several SIMI-linked figures who were engaged in fundraising for jihadist groups. Important among them was CAM Basheer, a fugitive SIMI leader, who is thought to be living in Sharjah using fake identification.
Basheer, police sources say, visited Nawaz in Muscat at least once and carried funds intended to facilitate Nasir’s efforts to recruit jihadists in Kerala.
Maulana Abdul Bari, a Hyderabad cleric last sighted in Saudi Arabia, is also thought to have raised funds in the diaspora for the training of jihadist cadre recruited in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
A costly failure
India has so far had little success in cracking down on terror financing. Nawaz’s story shows just how expensive this failure has been and how costly it could, yet, prove.