India's most wanted

Print edition : January 19, 2002

The 20 terrorists whose extradition from Pakistan India has demanded, and the charges against them.

FOR reasons bureaucrats alone understand, the list of 20 terrorists whom India has sought from Pakistan remains something of a secret. Media accounts of just who they are have been at variance from one another on several counts, minor and major. The confusion has been compounded by the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) claims that only suspects for whom Interpol red corner notices exist have been sought, for this is not the case with all those who are mentioned in the lists sources are making available to journalists. While Pakistan and the United States can be trusted with the secret, it would appear, Indians cannot. Not surprisingly, there is at least some suspicion that the details are being kept deliberately vague, in order to work out a mutually acceptable bargain. The suspicion is strengthened by the fact that while the list contains the names of some top terrorists, others on it are relatively irrelevant.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Toiba leader who has been detained by the Pakistani authorities, in a January 2001 photograph.-MIAN KHURSHEED/ REUTERS

Informed sources in New Delhi provided Frontline with their account of the list of 20, shortened, they said, from a preliminary list of 42 that was prepared by the Union Home Ministry. In addition, the list below profiles Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) Chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, who by some account features on the official list.

I. Terrorists from Jammu and Kashmir

Mohammad Yusuf Shah (Hizbul Mujahideen): Better known by his somewhat vain nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, Shah has led the Hizbul Mujahideen since November 11, 1991. A resident of Soibugh, and an unsuccessful Muslim United Front candidate in the 1987 Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections, Shah is a long standing member of the Jamaat-i-Islami Kashmir. Before taking over the Hizb's Muzaffarabad-based command, he acted as its Amir-i-Zila (district commander) from late 1989.

Conventional wisdom has it that when the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir started, it was almost exclusively led by the secular-nationalist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Things were not, in fact, quite that simple. The Hizb drew its first cadre from within the JKLF, with Mohammad Ashraf Dar, Maqbool Illahi and Abdullah Bangroo starting the pro-Pakistan organisation on instructions from the Jamaat leadership. Dar, however, soon fell foul of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and was hounded out of the Hizb, opening the way for Salahuddin. Now things seem to have come full circle: Shah is at war with his own Valley-based commanders, notably Abdul Majid Dar, who believe that Pakistan has imposed its agenda on their struggle.

Major cases:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the state of the Jammu & Kashmir Police at the time, there are no first information reports against Shah relating to crimes committed prior to 1991. It was only in 1997-1998 that the State police made serious efforts to build a legal case against him.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed (LeT): On paper, Saeed has never engaged in any terrorist act. He is the head of the Markaz Dawa wa'al-Irshad, an organisation committed to proselytisation, and which happens to be the patron of the LeT. The Markaz itself was an offshoot of the ultra-conservative Jamait Ahl-e-Hadis, a branch of radical Sunni thought which holds that only the sayings and doings of the Prophet Mohammad, his followers and family members form the sole basis of Islam. It rejects the mainstream idea of ijtema, the interpretation of tradition to address actually existing circumstances.

Saeed's rise was in large measure the outcome of patronage by the Pakistani military dictator Zia-ul-Haq, who granted the Markaz its sprawling campus at Muridke near Lahore. It helped raise cadre and funds for Haq's Central Intelligence Agency-sponsored campaign against the Soviet Union and the socialist government in Afghanistan. In 1991, the Lashkar was set up to give the ISI a direct role in terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Within two years, it set up a number of cells in Jammu and Kashmir and through India. From the outset, the Lashkar has made it clear that it sees the war in Jammu and Kashmir as just a stepping stone to establishing Islamic rule throughout South Asia.

Maulana Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammad leader, who was freed by India as part of a deal to end the hijack of Indian Airlines IC-814 in December 1999.-AZIZ HAIDARI/ REUTERS

In the wake of the recent ban imposed on the LeT by the United States and Pakistan, Saeed announced that the LeT had shifted its headquarters to Kashmir, and that the Markaz itself would restrict its activities to Pakistan. The announcement is disingenuous since the Lashkar has for a long time had offices in Pakistan-held Jammu and Kashmir, notably at the Sawai Nall at Muzaffarabad. It has also run launching camps from Lipa, Duhnihal, Athmuqam, Jura and Chikoti.

Major cases:

None in India. Reported to be facing sedition charges in Pakistan.

Abdul Karim "Tunda" (LeT): Until his disappearance off Indian intelligence radar from Bangladesh two years ago, Abdul Karim was the top field operative of the LeT's all-India outfit, the Dasta Mohammad bin Qasim. He reported to the Lashkar's head of all-India operations, Azam Cheema, who in turn acts under the instructions of the organisation's overall commander of military operations, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi.

Nick-named Tunda for a handicap in his left arm, sustained in the course of a bomb-building accident, Abdul Karim's association with the Islamic Right predates his association with Lashkar. Residents of Bhiwani (Maharashtra) Jalees Ansari and Karim and Nizamabad-based Azam Ghauri, then residents of Mumbai, set up a Muslim self-defence committee in the wake of the Bhiwandi riots. All of them were later recruited by the ISI, and trained in Pakistan in the early 1990s. Ansari is now in jail, while Ghauri was shot dead in an encounter in 2000.

Karim's key success was in discovering young recruits to do his work. New Delhi resident Aamer Hashim, operating under the alias Kamran, was responsible for a series of bomb blasts in New Delhi and Jalandhar in 1996 and 1997. Other agents have been brought in directly from Pakistan. On July 1, 1998, Intelligence Bureau surveillance led to the arrest of top Lashkar activist Mohammad Salim Junaid, with 16 kg of RDX (research department explosive) in his possession. Junaid, a resident of Kala Gujran village in Pakistan's Jhelum district, started his career in 1991.

Major cases:

Named in dozens of FIRs relating to the Delhi bomb blasts, and the bombing of trains.

II. The Indian Airlines IC-814 hijackers

Mohammad Masood Azhar (Jaish-e-Mohammad): Masood Azhar was an unlikely candidate to make it to any 'most wanted' list: in 1989 he was forced to drop out of his first, and only, arms training course with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen because he was overweight. But by 1993, he was second only to the Harkat chief Fazlur Rehman Khalil, having established himself as a fund-raiser and ideologue. After his release in the IC-814 for hostages-for-prisoners swap in December 1999, he went on to found the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), arguably the most feared terrorist group in Jammu and Kashmir today.

Azhar was born as the third of 11 children on August 7, 1968 to Allah Baksh Sabir Alvi, a Bahawalpur schoolteacher who ran a poultry farm after his retirement. Dropping out of school after Class VII, he joined the ultra-orthodox Binori seminary in Karachi and then he went on to join the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. He edited its magazine, Sada-i-Mujahid. He travelled abroad extensively on fund-raising missions, and was later tasked to visit India to preside over the formal unification of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Having arrived in New Delhi on January 29, 1994, on a fake Portuguese passport, he travelled on to the Kashmir Valley, from where he was arrested on February 16.

Several attempts were made to secure Azhar's release by means of kidnappings, notably one by Syed Omar Sheikh, released along with him in the IC-814 deal. Sheikh, a British national and London School of Economics graduate, remains Azhar's closest aide. Azhar, however, was not charged for his role in these attempts. Both Jaish leaders have close links with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Taliban supremo Mullah Mohammad Omar and Azhar were taught at the Binori seminary by Mullah Nazimuddin Shamzai, the religious leader who acts as the patron of the Jaish. Sheikh is believed to have remitted $100,000 to the World Trade Centre suicide bomber Mohammad Atta.

Major cases:

FIR No. 1 of 1993, filed by Counter-Intelligence, Jammu and Kashmir Police, under Section 3&4 of Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. No FIRs, however, have been registered for subsequent JeM attacks.

Mohammad Ibrahim Athar Alvi, Zahoor Ibrahim Mistri, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Shakir Mohammad and Azhar Yusuf: There is little available background material on the five hijackers of flight IC-814 sought by India. All are believed to be members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, and now the JeM. Ibrahim Athar Alvi is Masood Azhar's brother. The JeM chief's interrogation report records his being 28 years of age in 1994. Azhar told his interrogators that his younger brother spent most of his time working at the family-run poultry farm. Alvi, along with Azhar and three other brothers, is reported to have been arrested on sedition charges in Pakistan on December 31, 2001. There has since been no independent confirmation of their whereabouts.

Major cases:

Kidnapping and the murder of IC-814 passenger Rupin Katyal.

III. The Mumbai serial bombings

Dawood Ibrahim, 'Chhota' Shakeel Ahmad Babu, Sagir Sabir Ali Sheikh, Abdul Razzaq and Ishaq Atta Hussain: Everyone knows the story. Incensed by Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Muslims during the Shiv Sena-led Mumbai pogrom of 1992-1993, dependent on the ISI for keeping his narcotics operations open after gold and silver decontrol knocked the bottom out of his traditional business, India's most famous underworld figure did what he had to do. He allowed his apparatus to be used for India's worst terrorist outrage so far - the Mumbai serial bombings of 1993.

If Dawood Ibrahim's central role in the Mumbai bombings is well documented - and his subordinates used their contacts to ship in explosives, and then set them off at key installations through the city - most people are still unfamiliar with the mass of evidence that the CBI has collected of Pakistan's direct complicity in the operation. Twenty-seven cartons of explosives recovered from him in March, 1992, bore the markings of Packsile Packages in Lahore. The markings were traced to the Wah Nobel Factory at Wah, which manufactures explosives. Since governments concerned monitor sales of large consignments of explosives, it took little to see what had gone on. The Austrian Federal Ministry for the Interior confirmed in an April 1993 letter that the HG-72 grenades used by the bombers were made on equipment sold by Ulbrichts between 1969 and 1971 to the Pakistan military supply firm of Akhtar and Hofmann.

No wonder, then, that Pakistan officials repeatedly denied India assertions that Ibrahim was in Karachi - until a series of reports in the Pakistan press in 2001 blew the lid off.

Major cases:

Dawood Ibrahim and his associates are faced with a welter of Mumbai serial blasts cases. Many of them also face additional charges. Sagir Sheikh and Ishaq Atta Hussain, for example, are charged with a September 2001 attempt to assassinate Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. He also faces charges of jumping bail, and an Arms Act case from 1997. Ibrahim's top associate, Shakeel, is also wanted for crimes including the murder and attempted murder of Shiv Sena politicians and for weapons running.

'Tiger' Ibrahim Abdul Razzaq Memon and Ayub Memon: The guests at the wedding of the oldest Memon brother at the Islam Gymkhana in south Mumbai must have thought the family had everything going for it. The wedding had a full cast of film stars, including Jackie Shroff, and cricket heroes like Mohammad Azharuddin. Reports of the event filled the glamour columns of the Mumbai afternoon papers for weeks.

Not long after, things went awfully wrong. Most people reckon that the Memon family's problem was its thuggish son 'Tiger', and his younger brother Ayub. Tiger, the CBI believes, was the moving force behind the Mumbai serial bombings. The explosives recoveries, which proved crucial to cracking the case, were made from his home. More damning evidence came from Yakub Memon, who along with his family chose to return to India after spending three months in Pakistan. Tiger, however, remains firmly committed to his cause. In 1995, he is known to have met Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front leader Hilal Baig to discuss collaboration in terrorist operations in India. The JKIF subsequently carried out a series of explosions in New Delhi, although it is unclear if Tiger Memon had anything to do with these.

Major cases: All related to the Mumbai serial bombings. IV. The Khalistan terrorists

Paramjit Singh Panjwar (Khalistan Commando Force): Panjwar is believed to be about 40 years old and belongs to the village of Panjwar, near Tarn Taran. Until 1986, when he joined the Khalistan Commando Force, he worked at the Central Cooperative Bank in Sohal. Shortly after taking charge of the KCF in the 1990s, after the elimination of its commander, one-time police constable 'General' Labh Singh, Panjwar left for Pakistan. His wife and children relocated themselves in Germany. With his close links to top Punjab smugglers like Bhola Thanthian and Pargat Singh Narli, Panjwar has worked to keep the KCF alive using revenues raised from cross-border heroin traffic.

Major cases:

Ten FIRs registered from 1989 to 1990, including seven counts of murder and two under TADA.

Wadhawa Singh (Babbar Khalsa International): A resident of Sadhu Chattha village near Kapurthala, Wadhawa Singh started his political life as a member of Punjab's naxalite movement. Like some members of the ultra-left movement, its defeat led him to lurch to the far-right. By 1978, motivated by top Khalistan movement figure Tarsem Singh Kalasanghian, Wadhawa Singh joined the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, and went on to become one of the founders of the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), operating its network from Pakistan along with his brother Mahal Singh. The BKI has shown greater resilience than other terrorist groups in Punjab, owing both to its support among non-resident Indians and its contact with the ISI.

Major cases:

The most important charge against Wadhawa Singh is that he ordered the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. The prosecution of other conspirators in that case is proceeding, but Indian law does not provide for trials of suspects without their presence. Four other cases were registered against Wadhawa Singh in 1981 on charges of murder.

Lakhbir Singh Rode: Rode's Punjab Police dossier describes him as a "hardcore terrorist". While his name did inspire fear in Punjab once upon a time, it was more the consequence of his political influence and kinship rather than direct armed action. Now aged about 50, Rode is a nephew of the feared revanchist preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who plunged Punjab into the Khalistan movement. He joined the movement in 1982, having returned to the State after spending five years in Dubai. He fled India to Dubai in 1986, and after arranging to send his family to Canada, went on to Pakistan. Rode continues to be something of a cult figure - and successful fund-raiser - among Khalistan supporters in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada.

Major cases:

None. The sole FIR lodged against Rode is of April 19, 1984, at the Moga police station. This accuses Rode of several minor crimes, including trespass and causing damage in excess of Rs.50 to property.

Gajinder Singh (Dal Khalsa): Gajinder Singh came into public notice after he hijacked an Indian Airlines flight to Lahore in 1981. The hijacking was carried out to protest against the arrest of Bhindranwale earlier that year for his alleged role in the assassination of Hind Samachar Editor Lala Jagat Narain. The hijacker was given a life sentence but served only a few years in jail before being granted asylum in Pakistan. The hijacking was one of five such acts carried out by pro-Khalistan groups. Pakistan's direct involvement in these outrages was revealed after the 1984 hijacking, when West German officials confirmed that a pistol used by the terrorists was part of an official military consignment that had been sent to that country.

Meanwhile, in India, Gajinder Singh's organisation, the Dal Khalsa, was banned in 1982, but was allowed to restart overground activity a decade later. On August 11, 2001, Gajinder Singh was elected chief of the organisation, although he remains in Pakistan.

Major cases:

Continues to be wanted for the 1981 hijacking.

Ranjit Singh Neeta (Khalistan Zindabad Force): A resident of Ward 2 in Jammu city's Sumbal Camp area, Neeta is the only Khalistan terrorist to be still active among the five whom India has demanded from Pakistan. He started his career as a small-time criminal, and developed contacts with smugglers in the R.S. Pora and Samba areas. Neeta's Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) has close links with the ISI, and is committed to joint action with Jammu and Kashmir terrorist groups, notably the Hizbul Mujahideen. Despite recent losses - Neeta's second in command, Amritpal Singh Romi, was killed in an encounter in 2000 - the KZF remains active.

Major cases:

Neeta's name figures in over half a dozen FIRs filed after bomb blasts on trains and buses running between Jammu and Pathankot between 1988 and 1999. The most recent one was filed by the Kathua police in October 2001, for the assassination of Deputy Superintendent of Police Devinder Sharma.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor