India demands Pakistan hand over fugitives, testing pledge

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 2, 2008 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — India demanded Tuesday that Islamabad hand over 20 fugitives it says have taken refuge in Pakistan, in an escalation of the confrontation between the two countries in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks.

Those sought for terrorist acts include India's most wanted man, Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim. Also on the list is Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of the most violent Islamic militant groups in Pakistan. India said that the list would test Pakistan's pledge of co-operation following the attacks.

Separately, a U.S. counterterrorism official, who spoke to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity, said the U.S. has evidence that the Mumbai rampage was planned in Pakistan. "There are signs that these attacks were planned from Pakistani territory," said the counter-terrorism official, who declined to elaborate, citing the need to maintain confidentiality during the investigation.

A second U.S. official, who cited a similar reason for requesting anonymity, said the U.S. had provided India with advanced warning that terrorists were planning a seaborne assault on Mumbai. He declined to elaborate.

The list of people sought by India is understood to also include Tiger Memon, Ibrahim's right-hand-man, and Yusuf Muzammil, a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that Indian authorities say carried out the assault on Mumbai. Some reports have named Muzammil as the mastermind of the operation by the lone gunman who was captured amid the carnage.

However, the list went well beyond those sought in connection with the Mumbai attack, and some Pakistan analysts charged that India is taking advantage of the crisis to press unrelated grievances. India produced mostly the same names for extradition by India in 2002 when a similar crisis between the two countries had erupted. Pakistan handed over no one at the time.

"They have used this as a pretext, to go for an old list of people. It's very strange. Instead of concentrating on the evidence at hand, they are really trying to play a political game," said Ikram Sehgal, a security analyst based in Karachi.

Islamabad says that India has not provided it with any specific evidence to go on.

"As far as individuals and groups are concerned, this time we will definitely act against them," Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, told McClatchy. "Many of those 20 are not in Pakistan, at least we have no knowledge of them being in Pakistan. . . . So instead of just repeating old names, let's have a more substantive exchange of information."

Dawood Ibrahim is Indian but he's believed to have been hiding in Pakistan, supposedly under the protection of the country's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, or ISI, since 1993, when he was accused of being behind a bombing attack in Mumbai that claimed 250 lives.

Ibrahim is the overlord of a criminal syndicate called D-Company, which is involved in multi-million dollar smuggling, betting and extortion scams. In 2003, the U.S. declared him a "global terrorist." Pakistan denies his presence but he is widely thought to be living in Karachi. Independent experts believe that D-Company could have provided vital logistical support to the Mumbai terrorists last week.

Ibrahim is far from the typical religious extremist. He enjoys the high life, including schmoozing with stars from India's Bollywood film industry — and reputedly financing many of its films. He is also a big cricket fan, suspected of being at the centre of fixing results to make money from betting. His involvement in political violence is thought to have been motivated by a Hindu mob's destruction of the Babri Mosque in India in December 1992 and the killing of Muslims in communal violence in Mumbai shortly afterwards.

"He (Ibrahim) is not a hardcore Islamist, he's a Barelvi (a mainstream, non-violent sector)," said Muhammed Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an independent think tank in Islamabad. "You can't say he's in the jihadist mold."

Azhar is a classic jihadist, whose militant Jaish-e-Mohammad group is behind many attacks in India by its own admission. He, too, lives in Karachi, again under ISI safeguard, according to media reports, which Pakistani security officials have confirmed. He was captured by India in 1994 but released after hijackers of a Indian Airlines plane in 1999 sought his freedom.

Analysts say that Pakistan hasn't cracked down on known extremist leaders because of their past intimate association with the ISI — a relationship that some believe continues — and any such move would risk a violent backlash by their thousands of armed supports in the country. Conversely, Pakistan accuses India of harboring its nationalist insurgents from its troubled Baluchistan province.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Landay reported from Washington.)

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