Alleged al-Qaeda financier held

Alleged al-Qaeda financier held

A 39-year-old man has been arrested by Delhi Police for allegedly acting as a financier to al-Qaeda's Indian sub-continent (AQIS) module busted here, the third arrest in the case, police said today.

Zafar Masood was arrested from mohalla Deepa Sarai in UP's Sambhal district last night after being booked under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, said Special Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Arvind Deep.

Masood had allegedly financed Mohammed Asif (41), who was arrested by Special Cell from northeast Delhi's Seelampur on Monday, and his own nephew, Serjil (22), who is reported to be in al-Qaeda's training camp in Af-Pak region, an official privy to the investigation said.

Masood was alleged to have paid the duo around USD 500 in two instalments for a trip to Pakistan. The two, besides another youth, identified as Rehan (26), had gone to Pakistan via Tehran and Afghanistan in June 2013 for training, the official said.

Masood's arrest follows that of Mohammed Asif, also a native of Sambhal, and Abdul Rahman, a madrasa teacher in Jagatpur in Odisha's Cuttack district.Both Rahman and Masood were brought here on transit remand and produced before a court, which sent them to 12-days' police custody starting today, police said.

During interrogation, it emerged that Rahman has "connections" from Jharkhand to Saudi Arabia and Glasgow in Britain. He frequently visited Bangalore and met people, whose names police did not disclose, for which a team of Special Cell is likely to be rushed to Karnataka, said a police source.

It has also emerged that his brother Tahir Ali, who was arrested in 2002 in connection with the terrorist attack on American Cultural Center in Kolkata, had taken shelter at his residence before his arrest. However, such details are to be cross-checked with old records of the police department in Kolkata, the source added.

On the other hand, Masood, alleged to be a former operative of Harkat-ul-Mujahidin (HuM) trained in explosives and handling Kalashnikovs, is a neighbour of Asif, and a former student of a prominent university in the national capital, said an official.

After finishing a diploma course in Refrigeration and Air Conditioning certification from the university here in 1994, Masood went to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where he worked in an AC company for 950 Riyal a month, the official said.

He returned to India around three years later and rented a room at Batla House in Delhi with his friend, Usman, also a native of Sambhal. During his stay there, they met Saeed Akhtar alias Qasim, who is believed to be the deputy to AQIS chief (Amir) Maulana Asim Umar, said the official. Umar and Qasim are also natives of Sambhal.

It was Qasim who allegedly radicalised the two and convinced them to leave for Pakistan in 1999, while he himself left for Mumbai, he said.

Masood and Usman received training in a group of around 70 youths at Mansehra in the Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, which was the former training ground of HuM militants. They were specially trained in explosives by one Ustad Noman and in handling AK 47 by one Ustad Danial, said a source in Special Cell.

When Masood met Maulana Asim Umar, who was allegedly a senior HuM operative then, at the training ground, Umar turned out to be his "best friend" during school days, Sanaul Haq, whom he had not seen for several years. It was Umar who advised Masood and Usman to return to India, the source said.

Soon after his return to Sambhal, Masood was contacted by Qasim, who informed him that he had gone for 'Deeni' and 'Asgari' trainings at Mansehra and also instructed him to facilitate the travel of two more villagers from Sambhal to Pakistan.

These two villagers later became accused in a case registered under Explosives Act, Foreigners Act and Sections 121 and 121 A (related to conspiracy in connection with Waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India) of IPC at Delhi's New Friends Colony police station in September 2001.

However, they were acquitted of all charges in around eight years, following which they were never heard of, the source said.

Masood also allegedly facilitated the stay of two Pakistan nationals, identified as Maqsood Ahmed alias Ali and Sayed Mohammed alias Hamza, who had arrived in India in 2001. They were reported to have stayed in Faridabad and Lucknow, following which they were arrested by Delhi Police, said the source.

Masood later went to Saudi Arabia at least thrice -- in 2003 (to Dammam), 2005 (to Riyadh), and once in the past one year -- for work. He also got married in 2009 and has a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. He had lately opened his own enterprise, filing sales tax returns for businessman, the source said.

It was in early 2012, that Masood claimed to have realised that his nephew Serjil and neighbour Asif were radicalised by Usman. While the former were planning to leave for Pakistan for training, Usman, who later came to be known as Assad, left for the training camp in Af-Pak region in July within a few months, said the source.

In 2013, Qasim called up old associate Masood one day and asked him to contact him through video chat, which was finally arranged through Asif's laptop, he said.Qasim allegedly instructed Masood to pay them money and facilitate their travel to Pakistan.

Masood paid the first instalment after which Asif and Serjil left for Delhi. A few months later, Serjil called up Masood asking for the balance amount and informed him that the duo, along with another youth from Delhi, would go to Pakistan via Iran capital Tehran and Afghanistan.

Masood allegedly paid the balance and claimed that he never came in touch with them again until he saw Asif return to Sambhal, having left his nephew and the Delhi youth at a training camp in north Waziristan, in September 2014, the source said.

At the training camp Asif, who later became the Indian Head of AQIS's Indian Head for the motivation, recruitment and training, also met one Umar Hyderabadi, who turned out to be a recruit sent there by Abdul Rahman.

Rahman and Hyderabadi, a youth from Hyderabad whose actual name has yet not been disclosed, are so far the only non-Sambhal links the police have found in connection with the AQIS module, said a Special Cell official.

AQIS was floated by al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahari himself in September 2014, following a meeting somewhere in Af-Pak region which reportedly had in its quorum the entire Grand Council (Arabian Shura) of al-Qaeda, including al-Zawahiri's son in law.

Despite several Indians being present at the training camp, Maulana Umar and Asif are believed to be the only Indians present in the council, the official said.After Umar was anointed the chief, it is believed that some "unexpected visitors" met him, including Indian Mujahideen chief Riyaz Bhatkal, who is still at large, and other senior IM commanders like Baba Sajid, who was recently reported to have been killed in Syria, police said.

Asif was Umar's chosen candidate and, with the help of his deputy Qasim, Umar had contacted Asif through a social networking site, a year before he left for Tehran on a 'ziyarat' visa, exclusively meant for visiting a holy shrine in Tehran. Qasim also ensured that the trip was financed by someone in his own locality here, police said. The financier later turned out to be Zafar Masood, police added.

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