Sayed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, a Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) handler, involved in several terror attacks in various parts of India, was arrested in Delhi on 21 June 2012 on his deportation from Saudi Arabia. Belonging to Gevrai area of Beed district in Maharashtra, Jundal was initially impressed by tenets of Ahle Hadees or Salafis, who “adhere to the pristine teachings of Islam as enshrined in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” He gradually gravitated towards Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and took care of SIMI’s operations in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra for sometime before shifting to Indian Mujahideen (IM). It was at this point he got in contact with the LeT from where he went on to become the LeT’s handler in India. He might have fled to Pakistan after 2006 through Nepal and might have handled the LeT operations from there.
Hamza has been involved in or connected with a number of terror attacks across India. Apart from the famous Aurangabad arms haul case (May 2006), his involvement has surfaced in the IISc attack in Bengaluru (December 2005), 26/11 Mumbai attacks (November 2008), German Bakery blast in Pune (February 2010), Chinnaswamy Stadium attack in Bengaluru (April 2010) and Jama Masjid attack in Delhi (September 2010). After September 2010, the timeline of Abu Jundal’s involvement in terror attacks is not available. The plausible explanation for the unavailability of information on his activities and his shifting of base to Saudi Arabia in 2010 could be that around the same time his name was mentioned by one of the accused in the German Bakery case. Until this revelation, the investigators had proof of Jundal’s involvement only in the Aurangabad arms haul case. After this, in subsequent investigations the Indian investigators soon unearthed that the Indian hindi voice in the recordings of conversations between 26/11 attackers and their controllers was that of Abu Hamza. His name was, therefore listed in the dossier of 50 most wanted criminals sheltered in Pakistan, released by India on 21 May 2011.
By 2011 LeT had sent Abu Jundal to Saudi Arabia to handle the funding mobilization for LeT and to carry out fresh recruitment of Indian Muslims working there. The LeT which already has a good network in Saudi Arabia had sent Jundal there bearing a Pakistani passport in the name of Riyasat Ali. LeT’s plan was to launch a big attack in India at an appropriate time using the resources gathered by Jundal while in Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia Jundal went on with his assignment using different resources including the internet, especially social networking sites like Facebook. It was his online activities that gave way the whereabouts of Jundal in the form of electronic trails after which he was put under surveillance by the Indian authorities.
As expected, the most difficult part for the Indian authorities was to convince the Saudi intelligence and other authorities to arrest and deport Jundal to India as he was legally an Indian national wanted for crimes in India. Saudis were reluctant because of the Pakistan factor and the effect these developments would have on the Saudi – Pakistan relationship. In the end, Saudi Arabia caved under tremendous US pressure and persistent Indian diplomatic efforts and agreed to give India access to Jundal and deport him only if India provided hard evidence that Jundal was an Indian and not Pakistani national. India provided to the Saudi authorities Jundal’s DNA profile and other evidences that unambiguously established his Indian nationality. Pakistan, on the other hand, could not provide any documentary evidence that could prove that Jundal was indeed Riyasat Ali, a Pakistani national. Based on the evidences provided by India, Saudi Arabia decided to hand over Jundal to the Indian authorities. Saudi Arabia’s acceptance to deport Abu Jundal despite the Pakistan factor is seen as a positive development in the international cooperation on counter-terrorism front.
From the point of view of investigations and counter-terrorism, the capture of Abu Jundal is significant for more than one reason. Jundal was the only Indian present in the Karachi “control room” that guided the entire course of 26/11 Mumbai attacks. He is not only privy to the information of who was present in the control room (state and non-state actors in Pakistan), but also has knowledge of the exact role of these actors and their motivations behind the Mumbai attacks. Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive among the 10 terrorists who carried out the Mumbai attacks, was only an operative or foot soldier in the operations. Jundal, on the other hand, was involved right from the planning of the attacks to its execution and also its post-mortem. His first-hand testimony is important to connect various unconnected dots related to the case. Jundal’s can corroborate the facts which Indian investigators have gathered from the testimonies of Kasab and David Headley. As one of the important handlers of LeT, Abu Jundal would have information about the various Pakistan-based militant groups: their leadership, motivations, funding, recruitment, training, bases (both political and military), logistical support, their linkages with state and non-state actors in Pakistan, other internal and external networks, their modules and ‘sleeper cells’ in India, process of selection of targets, plans for future attacks, and extent of their connections with Indian jihadist groups such as SIMI and IM. Overall, Jundal should be in a position to reveal thus far unknowns on the LeT to the Indian security establishment.
Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal should be able to explain the extent of Pakistan’s involvement in terror attacks in India, especially the role of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI. He could help find answers to the many unanswered questions. Are the Pakistani claims that it really is not in a position to control anti-Indian militant groups based in its soil, valid? Or, is Pakistan controlling all activities, from planning to execution of terror attacks against India? Did Jundal flee to Saudi Arabia with the help of Pakistani establishment or with the help of only LeT or both? How did he manage to survive in Saudi Arabia for nearly two years with a “fake passport”? Abu Jundal’s investigations would help clear the cobwebs on these questions and many other unanswered questions for the Indian authorities.
Most importantly, Abu Jundal’s case would help the Indian government to understand the various causes for radicalisation of Indian Muslim youth, those groups involved in radicalizing them, on how the youth graduate to indulge in terror attacks against their own people, and, in the process, how they get their lives and ambitions trapped and finally destroyed.
Dr N Manoharan is a Senior Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi
Views expressed are personal