Lashkar-e-Taiba's US' connection


David Coleman Headley born Daood Salim Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana who have been arrested by the FBI for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts of killings and maimmings in foreign countries were targeting India and the Netherlands. Two separate 45 to 50 page complaints have been filed in a Chicago court by the FBI against each of the two accused.

Both the complaints state that a newspaper office and employees of a newspaper which had published cartoons of the Prophet were their primary targets in the Netherlands. The endeavour code named Mickey Mouse and was referred as such in their communication with persons based in Pakistan.

The complaint states that the two were working for the banned Islamic organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba. Some messages exchanged between Headley and his handler in Pakistan have been reproduced in the complaints. There are a number of references to India and to one Rahul in the messages. No specific target in India was mentioned but in one series of e-mails indicate that a city near Mumbai was being targeted.

Mumbai link

Headley was arrested at the O’hara airport, Chicago, before he could take a flight to Philadelphia en route to Pakistan. Based on this information and other inputs which probably had been given to the Indian team which had gone to Washington after the arrest of the duo, the National Investigating Agency has registered a case against Headley and Rana and unnamed members of the L-e-T. Apart from the conspiracy to commit crimes of terror in the country the NIA would be investigating the involvement of the two schoolmates in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November, 2008.

The fact that Headley made as many as nine visits to India in the last 2/3 years and is said to have opened an office in Mumbai and issued advertisements has raised genuine concerns about the efficacy of our security mechanisms and capabilities to prevent terrorists and their supporters easy ingress into and egress out of the country.

The names of Headley and Rana were apparently not on any list of wanted or suspicious persons. They had valid travel documents issued by their countries of naturalisation. All instructions and rules were apparently adhered to in granting them visas to visit India between 2006 and 2009. Headley had deliberately changed his name to a Caucasian one not to disclose his origins. This is exactly what he succeeded in doing as far as Indian officials were concerned. His birth place as entered in his passport was Washington DC. It is not known whether he was questioned about the difference of his and his father’s name.

While his Pakistani origin could not and should not have been held against him, the  purpose of his many journeys to India needed to be clarified. The immigration checks on reaching India were similarly cursory. Here as well the difference between his and his father’s name was not taken note of.

Lacuna

Foreigners on reaching their destination in India and checking in at a hotel or hostel of their stay are required to fill up and sign a form for scrutiny by the immigration authority. It is the responsibility of the management of the establishment to get the forms filled up and ensure their submission to the town/city immigration authorities along with the passport of the individual. Headley’s passport would have been scrutinised in over 12 towns during his nine visits and passed through the hands of at least three dozen officers but not one of them found anything unusual in it.

Immigration control is now computerised in most parts of India. It should be easy to develop software applications to draw the attention of the operator to a large number of facts recorded on passports. Alerts would be sounded automatically by the system. Obviously such programmes have not been introduced except for those on the wanted lists.

While new software should be introduced, proper training and regular briefings are necessary to raise the levels of awareness and competence of all personnel engaged on security duties. Terrorists are always adopting new methods and subterfuges to evade detection.

New higher levels of skills, expertise, motivation and dedication are required along with a more imaginative approach if terror has to be contained in the country. Nothing should be treated as matter of routine in the present dangerous environment.

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