Al qaeda recruits Indian Muslims for operations in west

published on July 7, 2007

By B. Raman

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Pro-Al Qaeda cells in India and abroad have started recruiting Wahabised Indian Muslim youth, known for their anti-West views, for their operations in the Western countries and against Western interests even in India in view of the stepped-up surveillance on the Pakistani diaspora. In the UK terror plot targeting London and Glasgow, now under investigation by the British Police, it is a joint Arab-Indian cell which has played the lead role. Of the eight members of the cell identified by the British Police so far, six are Arabs and two Indian Muslims, with suspected previous links to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. There is no clear picture as yet of the third Indian Muslim (Mohd.Haneef) detained for questioning in Australia. I am not, therefore, for the present treating him as a member of this cell till more evidence emerges.


2. It is also clear by now that the role of at least one of the two Indian Muslims detained in the UK in the plot was central and conscious and not peripheral and unconscious. All the indications are that he voluntarily participated in the plot with full knowledge of the implications of his action. He was  not a dupe of pro-Al Qaeda elements. Nor was he intimidated into participating. He willingly and at his own initiative participated, convinced that by doing so he would be serving the cause of Islam. The indications till now are that the anger, which motivated him to join the cell, was not directed against India, but it was directed against the West. He wanted to punish the West and was prepared to let himself be used by Wahabised Arabs for this purpose.


3. The two were not Wahabised after they went to the West. They were already Wahabised when they were in Bangalore and before they went to the UK. Pro-Al Qaeda elements in the UK spotted them and got attracted to them because of their Wahabised views and their sharing of the Arab anger against the West.


4. These conclusions—-tentative, but increasingly tending towards definitive— come out of a study of the details emerging from the UK and Bangalore about the two Indian Muslims in the custody of the British Police. These two Indian Muslims—one a doctor and the other an engineer— are brothers from Bangalore, coming from a family of doctors. It has been reported that their parents had worked as doctors for some years in Jordan and that their sons had spent some years of their youth in Jordan.


5. The two brothers are Sabeel Ahmed, 26, a doctor arrested in Liverpool, and Kafeel Ahmed, his elder brother, who is an engineer. It was Kafeel Ahmed, who was reportedly driving the jeep that tried to crash into the Glasgow airport and set himself on fire. He was accompanied by Abdullah, a doctor of Iraqi origin born in the UK, but educated in the Arab world.  Kafeel Ahmed sustained extensive burns and is reportedly unconscious still in the hospital. The Police have not so far been able to question him. Initial reports had given conflicting identities of the terrorist, who was driving the jeep. Some reports gave his name as Khalid Ahmed, a Lebanese doctor, and others as Kafeel Ahmed, an Indian engineer. This initial confusion seems to have arisen from the fact that Kafeel Ahmed was in the habit of giving different identities to different people. He had told some that he was from the Lebanon and others that he was from India. Unconfirmed media reports from Bangalore claim that the two brothers also probably had Jordanian passports. It has been reported that Sabeel Ahmed and Kafeel Ahmed had also tried to migrate to Australia, but did not succeed since the Australian authorities had doubts in their mind about their antecedents.


6.  Kafeel passed his B.E. (Mechanical) from the UBDT Engineering College in Davangere in Karnataka in 2000. He then did his M. Phil and went to the UK to do his PhD in computational fluid dynamics (CFD) at the Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge. Both the brothers had reportedly come to Bangalore in May, 2007, to visit their parents.


7. On the basis of the details available so far, the following re-construction is possible: Though an engineer by profession, Kafeel Ahmed did not know much about how to assemble an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or the difference between an explosive device and an incendiary device. He also probably did not know that before a mobile phone can be used as the triggering device in an IED it requires some modification. He and Abdullah collected a large quantity of petrol, gas canisters and nails, assembled two IEDs with mobile telephones and two medical syringes to act as triggers, put them in two cars and left them in London. They did not take care to hide their identity by using stolen mobiles or mobiles procured from others.  They repeatedly rang up the mobile number, but the IEDs did not work. The police recovered the IEDs, including the mobiles, intact. They got panicky since they knew that the Police would be able to identify them from the mobiles. In a desperate attempt to succeed before the police arrested them, they assembled a third device of petrol, gas canisters and nails, placed it in a jeep and drove it to the Glasgow airport. Kafeel could not detonate the device. He poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire thinking that this would cause an explosion. It only caused a fire, which was easily extinguished and not an explosion.


8. It has been reported that as young students both  the brothers were barred from attending prayers in  the Masjid-e-Kudadad, opposite their home in Bangalore, because of their strong opposition to Sufism and support for Wahabism. Since the 1980s, the educational institutions of Bangalore have been attracting radical Arab and Iranian students. In 1993-94, the Israeli authorities had arrested a Palestinian student from Bangalore and recovered from him an IED. They shared the details of his interrogation with the Indian authorities and cautioned that South India in general and Bangalore in particular were attracting radical students from the Arab world and Iran, who had a potential of becoming terrorists. Around the same period, the Egyptian authorities had cautioned the Government of India that radical students denied admission to Arab universities were managing to get admission  to Indian educational institutions without the Government of India being aware of their extremist ground.


9. Instead of continuing to be in a denial mode that Al Qaeda as an organisation or its ideology cannot make an impact on the mind of the Indian Muslim, the Government of India should take the wake up call from the UK seriously and strengthen the capability of our intelligence agencies and the Police to detect and neutralise before it is too late signs of emergence of extremism of the Al Qaeda brand directed against Western and Israeli nationals and interests in Indian territory.


(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat,. Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: [email protected])

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