Convent-educated Pune faith-healer Sohail Sheikh was asked by the chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to tail and “bump off” BJP leader LK Advani, the alleged mastermind of the July 11 serial bombings has said.
In his confession to the police, made available to HT, Faisal Sheikh said Sohail (38) had a one-on-one meeting with the ISI chief during his visit to that country in November 2002.
“The ISI chief had asked Sohail to begin collecting intelligence on Advani and a few other top leaders, and other targets as well like the Indian armed forces’s military installations, Bombay Stock Exchange and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre,” said Faisal, 31-year-old “western India commander” of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The confession is recorded in Marathi and was given to Crime Branch Unit Two’s chief Senior Inspector JK Hargude, who arrested the mastermind on July 27 and Sohail on July 25.
“The first target the ISI chief gave him was to track Advani’s travel schedules in Mumbai and western India,” Faisal’s confession said. “Sohail was to then pass on the intelligence to him so that it could result in his (Advani’s) elimination.
“The ISI chief asked him (Sohail) to contact him and other intelligence officers regularly in order to supply intelligence gathered by him. For this purpose he was given an email address and also a few telephone numbers that would reach them via Dubai.”
Faisal said Sohail — whom he had sent to Pakistan on orders from Lashkar India commander Azam Cheema — became an ISI agent and doubled up as a Lashkar operative. “His one-month long training was with the ISI at their base, whose location Sohail could not figure out as he was taken there in a covered-up car,” said Faisal. “The ISI took good care of him in terms of funding and direct access to their bosses”.
Detailing the background to his own visit to Pakistan, Faisal said, “I met some SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) men at the Mecca mosque in Byculla’s Mominpura area, and they incited me to sacrifice myself to the cause of the oppressed Muslim community. I wanted to join the jehad against Israel and so went to Pakistan in 2001. My Oman-based friend Asif Sheikh helped me to procure the visa.
“I went to Lahore to the office of Markaj-ul-dawa-wal-Irshad, the political wing of the Lashkar. Two Lashkar operatives — Abu Hurera and Abu Maas — then arranged my meeting with Cheema after grilling me for days.”