Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The ISI’s Lankan Connection – An Unfolding Spy - Terror Network

Arun Selvaraj or Selvarajan is no David Coleman Headley. He however, adopted modus operandi similar to Headley, namely, setting up a cover for the purpose of espionage and scouting targets for a possible attack to be carried out by Pak-sponsored terrorists. He and the other Pakistani spies had a task to lay the groundwork for the ISI to execute a 26/11 style attack in either Chennai or Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore).

The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) along with its protégé the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) have either shifted their focus from Western India to the South of the country or have expanded their operations in the South. This is apparent from the arrests of ISI agents made by the Indian law enforcement agencies in the last few months. 

In April 2014, the law-enforcement agencies arrested a Sri Lankan national Sakir Husain in Chennai who revealed a Pakistani conspiracy to attack US and Israeli consulates in Chennai with help from two Maldivian nationals. Sakir Hussain, told his interrogators that he had been hired allegedly by an official in Pakistani high commission in Colombo as part of the ISI’s alleged plans to conduct reconnaissance of US consulate in Chennai and Israeli consulate in Bangalore. Hussain was arrested on April 29 in a coordinated operation involving various countries. (See wherein the threat posed from Maldives was highlighted) A month later, his associate Mohammed Sulaiman, another Sri Lankan, was arrested in Malaysia on similar charges.

Husain’s interrogation revealed that the ISI was planning to send two men from Maldives to Chennai and that he had to arrange for their travel documents and hideouts. He was chosen as he was engaged in human trafficking and in forging passports and smuggling fake currency.

Husain’s name cropped up during an investigation in a Southeast Asian country (possibly Malaysia) which tipped a security agency in India about possible attack on US and Israeli consulates, the sources said.

An immediate surveillance led the investigators to Husain who had been constantly shifting his base in neighbouring Sri Lanka prompting the sleuths to seek cooperation of the island nation, the sources said.

After Husain’s arrival in Chennai, he was picked up and subjected to sustained interrogation during which, the sources claimed, he spoke about a possible terror strike on the two consulates and that his handler was Amir Zubair Siddiqui, Counsellor (Visa) at the Pakistani mission in Colombo.

The sleuths recovered pictures of US and Israeli consulates showing various gates and roads leading to the two premises, the sources said, and claimed that these pictures had been mailed to his alleged handlers in Pakistan and its high commission in Colombo.

Cyber signatures showed that the pictures were downloaded at a computer within the premises of Pakistan high commission at Colombo and the same had been shared with Sri Lankan authorities, the sources claimed.

Arun Selvarajan, a Sri Lankan national and suspected to be a member of the Tamil Tigers was recruited by the ISI’s Amir Zubair Siddiqui, the handler of Husain and was arrested by National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Chennai. Selvarajan’s assignment was to carry out a recce of possible targets in and around Chennai (similar to what Daood Sayed Gilani better known as David Coleman Headley carried out in Mumbai to enable Pakistan to 26/11 attacks) for a possible repeat of Mumbai 26/11 in Chennai. The Times of India reported that Selvarajan had posed as a bartender at a dinner party organized for the Army Officers at the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai in August 2009. For the party held in 2009, OTA had given the bartending contract to a star hotel in Chennai. NIA officials said Selvarajan tagged along a friend who worked in the star hotel for the officers' party. "He served drinks and managed to take some photographs of senior officers in the academy, using a pen camera. He downloaded these photographs and sent them to his handler called Shaji in Sri Lanka. Shaji worked for the Pakistan high commission in Sri Lanka. He carried out this ‘assignment’ before he set up an event management company called “ICE Events” as a cover for his espionage activities. The modus operandi has been more or less similar to that adopted by David Coleman Headley. While it is not clear when he was recruited, the very fact that he was operating since 2009, proves that he was able to evade scrutiny of the intelligence agencies. Another factor that possibly worked in his favour, like that of Headley, was he was a Sri Lankan Tamil Hindu and may not have aroused suspicion.

Selvarajan is also reported to have conducted reconnaissance of Kalapakkam nuclear plant site.

The other ISI spy Thameem Ansari, a native of Thajavur, was arrested pursuant to a joint operation carried out by the Indian Intelligence Bureau (IB)-Q Branch of Tamil Nadu Police while he was on his way to Trichy airport carrying a digital dossier on defence installations in South India in the third week of September 2012. He was scheduled to catch a flight to Colombo the day he was arrested. Ansari was arrested after six months of surveillance in 2012.

A failed onion trader, Ansari was contacted by Pakistani agent Shaji when he was in Colombo. Pakistani diplomat Siddiqui was suspected to be their handler.
Ansari was caught with Compact Discs and a pen drive that had data on important military areas and also landing points on the southern coastline. He was carrying a DVD of training paratroopers landing in some desert and also a Signal Corps parade. He was also carrying visuals of the Indian Army insignia that army officers wore on their shirts which raised suspicion that it was meant to smuggle terrorists into Wellington and other sensitive places dressed like Indian army officers.

An official recalled that he was carrying CDs of extensive footage that he had shot of the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington and other military places.

Intelligence sources said, there was information that not only was ISI regularly recruiting youth from this troubled region of Sri Lanka for espionage and covert operations against India but even the LeT has set up a base and now wielded some sort of influence in the region. "The region has been in some ethnic turmoil of late and Pakistan has been fishing in troubled waters. For its intelligence-collection and covert action operations directed against India, ISI uses four external bases - Kathmandu, Dubai, Bangkok and Colombo. The last one has traditionally been used as a base to collect intelligence about developments in sensitive Indian nuclear and missile establishments, many of which are located in south India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. But the last few arrests show that these elements could now be used to mount an attack. This is worrying," said a security establishment officer. 

In an unrelated development a leading Indian newspaper reported that a partially burn diary was found by a security guard of Hanging Gardens (a well known garden in South Mumbai) on the evening of 15th September 2014 warning the city police of a repeat of 26/11 attacks to avenge the deaths of ten Pakistani terrorists (who were killed in the 26/11 attack). A letter in the diary said that ten jawans (soldiers) of Pakistan would be assisted by five Indians, including three police personnel, in the attack. "The security guard told the police that a man informed him about a diary lying in the garden. When the security guard opened it, he found a two-page letter in Hindi. He suspected something suspicious and informed the police about it. However, the man who had informed the security guard about the diary had by then left," a police officer said.

The letter read: “You will feel the same pain the way my brother, Ajmal Kasab, was executed. You take care of Mumbai, we challenge you. Remember 26/11 when my brother Kasab and his associates proved to be tough for the Mumbai police. Forget 26/11 and remember a new date 26/9 (September 26, 2014). First blast at Taj (Taj Hotel) will be followed by strikes at Churchgate, CST, Airport, Dadar, Andheri RTO, Kurla, Tilak Nagar and between Church (probably referring to Churchgate) to Mira Road, anywhere, there could be an attack.”

The letter warned of a tehelka (sensation) at Byculla station between 10 am – 6 pm. “If the Maharashtra police is powerful enough, stop it,” it said. The letter said Aamir Kasab would win the war on 26/9. Sixteen names, including those of the attackers were mentioned. In the end, the letter mentioned about hoisting the green flag in Kashmir.

While the letter seems to be prank, it cannot be taken lightly for the following reasons: Firstly, the last week of September witnesses a very important Hindu festival of Dusshera which commences on 25th September. Being a festival which is celebrated on a mass scale where people in large numbers congregate in Puja Pandals and processions, a terror strike is certain to cause mass casualties and panic. Secondly, the Maharashtra state elections are scheduled to be held in mid-October and any 26/11 type attack will impact the polls and its outcome. Thirdly, the November 2008 attack (26/11) was to have been originally carried out in September 2008 (according to the late B. Raman on 26th September 2008) but was postponed due to various reasons. The security agencies in Mumbai cannot let their guard down in the light of the contents of the letter.   

1 comment:

Pete said...

Hi Kumar

Thank goodness the plot was exposed and foiled.