Pune as a possible centre for jihadi activities came to notice in March 2002, when Abu Zubaidah, the then No.3 to Osama bin Laden, was arrested by the Pakistani authorities acting at the instance of America's Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the house of a Lashkar-e-Tayiba activist at Faislabad in Pakistani Punjab and handed over to the FBI. He is now in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre in Cuba. Sections of the Pakistani media had reported at that time that Zubaidah, a Palestinian, had studied computer science in Pune before crossing over into Pakistan and joining Al Qaeda.
In September-October 2008, the Mumbai police had arrested four IT-savvy members of the Indian Mujahideen, who had played a role in sending e-mail messages in the name of the IM before and after the Ahmedabad blasts of July 2008, and before the New Delhi blasts of September 2008, by hacking into wi-fi networks in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. Three of them were from Pune.
The four persons were: Mohammed Mansoor Asgar Peerbhoy aka Munawar aka Mannu, a 31-year-old resident of Pune who was allegedly working for an American internet company in its India office as a well-paid executive; Mubin Kadar Shaikh, a 24-year-old computer science graduate from Pune; Asif Bashir Shaikh, a 22-year-old mechanical engineer from Pune. In addition to helping in sending the e-mail messages, he also reportedly played a role in planting 18 Improvised Explosive Devices in Surat, all of which failed to explode; Mohammed Ismail Chaudhary, a 28-year-old computer mechanic, who is also suspected to have helped in planting the IEDs in Surat.
Peerbhoy was reported to have joined the IM while was studying Arabic in Pune's Quran Foundation.
Pune and its Chabad House again figured prominently in recent media reports of the visits to India by David Coleman Headley of the Chicago cell of the LeT currently facing trial in Chicago on charges of helping the LeT in carrying out the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai by collecting operational details about the targets to be attacked. Pune was one of the places reportedly visited by him.
The writer is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com