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The Mumbra boy who met Osama

From being a soft-spoken boy who obeyed his strict father to becoming the alleged financier of the 13/7 blasts, HT trails the path followed by Haroon Rashid Naik, one of the key accused, in the second of the three-part series.

mumbai Updated: Feb 28, 2012 02:09 IST
Presley Thomas

Fearing violent reprisal, in the aftermath of 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, following the 1992 riots, lift technician Abdul Hamid Naik relocated from Kurla to Mumbra.

Naik did not realise what a deep imprint the two incidents left on the psyche of his youngest child, Haroon Rashid. Two decades later, the youngest of his six children was accused of being an Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative and arrested for allegedly sponsoring the July 13, 2011, serial blasts that killed 27 people.

Haroon’s life changed dramatically after his family moved to Mumbra. He did not continue his education at the Anjuman-e-Islam school in Kurla. “The family sent him to study at a madrassa [an Islamic seminary] in Malegaon. Our sister was studying there,” said Imtiaz, the oldest of Naik’s sons who has a scrap-dealing business.

Haroon, however, got thrown out after a tiff with teachers, said Imtiaz. He was then sent to a Mumbra school from where he went on to pursue a diploma in electronics from the Institute of Technology at Ullhasnagar.

Like him, Haroon too enrolled with the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Imtiaz revealed. “Those days, SIMI was where parents sent spoilt brats to with the expectation that it would sort them out. It was not a radical outfit,” said Imtiaz, who retired from SIMI at 28, the age limit set by it. He is now in his late 40s.

“As a teenager, Haroon was soft-spoken and never got into a brawl. He was well-behaved, a good student. He was the kind of boy others looked up to,” his brother recalled.

However, the boy who toed the line his strict father had drawn was thrown out of the house in 2000 after he fell in love with a girl whom the family did not approve of.

Soon after, Haroon found a job in Hyderabad. The same year, a day after Eid, Haroon, who was visiting home, disappeared. “He said he was going back to Hyderabad,” said Imtiaz. When Haroon did not call for a month, the family made enquiries and discovered he had quit his job a month before Eid. Worried, the Naiks registered a missing person complaint at the local police station, but Haroon could not be tracked down.

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) claims it is during this period that Haroon got indoctrinated by senior IM operative Asrar Ahmed, who was arrested with Haroon in a counterfeit currency case in August 2011. Last month, Haroon was booked for his suspected role in the 13/7 blasts.

Later, IM founders Riyaz Bhatkal and Tarique Ismail and other members, Asif Raza Khan and Amir Ali Raza, arranged for Haroon to go to Bangladesh.

The ATS charge sheet in the counterfeit currency case states that a Miyajaan in Bangladesh helped him acquire a Pakistani passport.

In late 2000, Haroon went to Pakistan and trained at the Bahawalpur academy of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in Umalapur, headed by its then chief of India operations, Azam Cheema, the ATS alleges. Sources said after Haroon expressed an interest in fighting the Northern Alliance and the US forces in Afghanistan, he underwent a commando training programme allegedly imparted by Pakistan’s Special Services Group known as the Zarar Company.

He then joined Al Qaeda fighters in Kandahar, where he met Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden when he visited the camp to speak to the fighters. “We had no idea he had gone for terrorist training,” said Imtiaz. Three years later, when Haroon returned to Mumbra, his father did not allow him into the house. “We asked him where he had been, but he said he would disappear again if we asked questions,” said Imtiaz.

The brothers found him a place to stay, and Haroon got involved in Imtiaz’s scrap-dealing business. “He used to help me for three months, and then go to Delhi to be with the Jamaat. We thought he was working for the community,” said Imtiaz.

Haroon started a leather bags business in Delhi along with a Nepali national identified as Mumtaz. The duo would travel to Nepal and from there to Pakistan, said sources. In December 2005, Haroon visited Pakistan under the assumed name of Sheikh Mustak Sheikh Aijub, through Attari Road, show photos from the Foreigners Regional Registration office in Amritsar.

“Around 2009, two of our brothers who work in Saudi Arabia took Haroon there,” said Imtiaz, adding that there he worked as a limousine driver. In 2010, Haroon set up a business of providing local labourers to firms.

According to the ATS, Haroon had become an expert bomb-maker and was in touch with a serving Pakistani army officer known to him as General Murad, who visited him in Saudi Arabia and discussed the IM’s plans.

Through General Murad, Haroon was introduced to operatives of various terrorist groups, including Hamas of Palestine and Abu Sayyaf and Jemmah Islamiyah groups from South-east Asia. “Haroon used to train their operatives to make sophisticated improvised explosive devices in a Saudi flat,” an ATS official said.

Bowing to pressure, in August 2011, Haroon agreed to get married. “I had even seen two girls for him. But when he came back, he was arrested,” said Imtiaz.