With a key LeT operative now in custody, Indian diplomats are working on securing the deportation of a suspected founder of the Indian Mujahideen, a top government source says.
On June 21st, Indian antiterrorism authorities scored a major diplomatic victory when Saudi Arabia deported Abu Hamza, the alleged Indian-born Lashkar-e-Taiba "handler" of the Mumbai 26/11 terrorists, to New Delhi, even though he holds a third country's passport.
The 30-year-old, whose real name is Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari, was flown to India aboard a special plane, accompanied by Indian security men, and formally arrested upon landing.
A year earlier, Saudi intelligence, acting on a tip from Indian counterparts, nabbed Hamza and detained him on a passport forgery case. But the Saudis needed clear proof that Hamza – who was born in the Beed district of Maharashtra state – was an Indian and not a Pakistani as he claimed.
"He was sent to Saudi Arabia by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) to recruit more jihadists from among South Asian expatriates. The code name of his mission was 'dawat' ('feast') because it entailed throwing lavish luncheons and dinners for possible entrants," S.M. Krishna, India's Minister for External Affairs, told reporters.
While there he made phone calls to India that were intercepted by Indian intelligence. "When we alerted the government of Saudi Arabia, we received the highest co-operation, for which we are grateful," Krishna said.
Abu maintained throughout that he was Riyasat Ali, a Pakistani technician, and he had genuine papers to prove it. But Saudi intelligence relied on Indian evidence that he was one of the chief executors of the Mumbai 26/11 operation.
"We provided all scientific evidence which led the Saudis to overrule the claim of other governments," Krishna said.
To Indian authorities, the Hamza affair represents "a new pattern in government-to-government co-operation against terrorism", he said.
Hamza's voice was familiar to most Indians because the wiretap of his telephone conversation with the 10 terrorists who carried out the attack in Mumbai over three nights in November 2008 has been played over Indian TV channels ever since.
Now India is hopeful of bringing to justice another much-wanted terror suspect: Fasih Mahmood, believed to be one of the founders of the Indian Mujahideen.
According to Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Mullappally Ramachandran, the Saudi government has recently responded to an Interpol red corner notice issued at the insistence of India's premier law enforcement agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.
"They have held him and I can confirm that diplomatic efforts are underway to get him to India to face charges," Ramachandran told Khabar South Asia.
An engineer, Mahmood is believed to have been involved in the April 2010 blast outside Chinnaswamy Stadium that injured 15. The following month, he allegedly led an attack on New Delhi's 17th-century Jama Masjid that seriously injured two Taiwanese heritage monument specialists.
"We are hopeful of getting Fasih Mahmood to India (soon)," the minister said. "The Saudi government is convinced by India's case against Fasih and are incensed that a man who had plotted the attack on the Jama Masjid, a great heritage site for Sunnis all over the world, should dare to seek help from (them)."
If India ultimately succeeds in securing Mahmood's deportation, the bilateral handshake could serve as a beacon of hope for all countries hurt by terrorism, said B. Raman, a former additional secretary with the Research & Analysis Wing, the government's top secret foreign intelligence unit.
"Though India and Saudi Arabia have a bilateral extradition treaty in place, the two governments in Hamza's case have got around the time-consuming legal formalities. It's well known that extradition proceedings are spread over years and are expensive," he said.