India has reason to be anxious over the Al Qaeda’s deeper focus on the country. A US government cable of 2006 released by WikiLeaks says “India is becoming more central to Al Qaeda’s agenda”.
Four years later, intelligence sources have revealed that alleged Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative Shahzad Ahmad had told interrogators after his arrest early this year about deepening ties with the Al Qaeda.
Shahzad, the sources said, revealed that Atif Ameen, who headed IM’s northern module, had spoken of his Al Qaeda ties. Atif was killed in the Batla House encounter in Delhi on September 19, 2008. He is alleged to have masterminded blasts in Jaipur, Delhi, Ahmedabad and other cities between 2005 and 2008.
According to Shahzad, Atif claimed he’d visited Afghanistan through Khalid, an activist of the banned Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and a resident of Azamgarh.
The intelligence officials said they were trying to verify what Shahzad told them about Atif. But they have reason to take Shahzad’s information seriously.
Immediately after his arrest, Shahzad had warned of an IM plot to target Varanasi and its ghats. On December 7, an infant girl was killed in a blast on a busy ghat in the city.
After the blast, Shahzad was interrogated for more information, which is when he shed light on the Al Qaeda’s influence on the IM.
Shahzad told his interrogators that at the time of joining Atif’s group, he was given a book, ‘Milestone’, by Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in Egypt in 1966 on charges of plotting a regime change. Qutb’s writings are said to have greatly influenced Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Apart from Shahzad’s revelations, intelligence agencies also suspect the involvement of the Al Qaeda in India through Ilyas Kashmiri, said to be the number three man in the group.
Furthermore, former Pakistani army major Abdul Rehman alias Pasha, who joined the Lashkar-e-Taiba after leaving the army, was in regular touch with Amir Raza Khan, Karachi-based top IM operative and Atif’s handler.
Pasha was also in touch with David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American who helped the lashkar select targets for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Headley has told Indian investigators he formed a great bond with Pasha and that it was Pasha who took him to meet Kashmiri in Waziristan.