Security expert B Raman unravels the larger plot behind the recent terror-related arrests in Italy.
On June 12, 2009, US and Italian investigators arrested some persons on charges of stealing phone services from companies around the world and using the illegal profits thus earned for funding terrorism.
They were accused of hacking phone lines and selling the phone services thus illegally obtained through call centers and via phone cards.
It was stated by the investigators that many phone calls were made over lines owned by the AT&T Corp. While the AT&T was not hacked, 12 million minutes of its phone services valued at $55 million were allegedly stolen by the arrested persons.
The three hackers, who were indicted by a grand jury of New Jersey in the US, were residents of the Philippines. They were accused by the investigators of helping the Madina Trading Company of Brescia, Italy, in obtaining stolen phone lines for providing stolen phone services to the customers of the company in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Wall Street Journal reported on June 13,2009, that the Madina Trading Company, which paid the three hackers, also 'financed the communications of the terrorists" in the Mumbai 26/11 attacks.
According to the U.S. indictment, Mahmoud Nusier, 40, Paul Michael Kwan, 27, and Nancy Gomez, 24, residing in the Philippines, conspired to break into the phone systems of 2,500 entities in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. The three hackers were arrested by the Philippines Police last year, but were released on bail.
On getting information of their hacking into the phone systems of American companies, US authorities took up the investigation and have sought their extradition from the Filippino authorities. It is not known what action has been taken by the Filippino authorities on the extradition request from their US counterparts. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Filippino authorities alleged that Nusier, a Jordanian national, had links with Al Qaeda.
The Italian police arrested on June 12,2009, five Pakistani nationals during raids on 10 call centers suspected of involvement in the alleged conspiracy. Among those arrested were a husband-and-wife team who managed call centers in Brescia, Italy -- Mohammad Zamir, 40 years old, and Shabina Kanwal, 38. The indictment filed in the New Jersey court alleged that the Madina Trading Company is owned by one of the call-center operators involved in the alleged conspiracy. However, the owner of the company was not named.
Two employees of the same Madina Trading Company in Brescia -- 60-year-old Mohammad Yaqub Janijua and his son 31-year-old Aamer Yaqub Janijua -- who were managing the company were arrested by the Italian authorities yesterday on charges of aiding and abetting international terrorism and illegal financial activity.
According to Stefano Fonzi, the head of the anti-terrorism police of Brescia, on November 25, 2008, they sent money using a stolen identity to a US company to activate an Internet phone account used by the terrorists involved in the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
The funds were transferred under the identity of another Pakistani who had never been to Italy and was not involved in the attacks, Fonzi said. His identity was probably stolen when he used another money transfer agency in Pakistan. The order to open the account that allowed the attackers to communicate during the attack came from two men in Pakistan. The Italian police said the identities of these Pakistanis had been intimated to the Pakistani authorities.
The transfer of the money by the Mumbai conspirators through the Madina Trading Company had come to the notice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Indian authorities shortly after the 26/11 attacks, but the manager of the company and his son could not be arrested immediately by the Italian authorities as they had fled Italy----reportedly to Pakistan. They were arrested when they returned to Italy. If it is correct that they had fled to Pakistan, it is not clear why they were not arrested by the Pakistani authorities.
The investigation into the activities of the Madina Trading Company brings out the involvement of members of the Pakistani diaspora in the West in the sale of stolen phone services and the use of such companies by terrorist organisations based in Pakistan such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). These organisations seem to have an up-to-date database of Pakistani-owned or run companies which could be used for facilitating terrorist attacks.