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Post 26/11, Omer Sheikh made the hoax calls to Mukherjee and Zardari

By Rediff News Bureau
Last updated on: November 26, 2009 20:06 IST
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Pakistani terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh made the hoax calls to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani after last year's terror attacks on Mumbai, investigators have told Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

'Omar Saeed Sheikh was the hoax caller. It was he who threatened the civil and military leadership of Pakistan over telephone. And he did so from inside the Hyderabad Jail (in Pakistan),' investigators told Dawn.

At the time he made those phone calls Sheikh was in prison on the charge that he had executed Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in January 2002.

Sheikh was one of the three prisoners India set free in exchange for the crew and passengers of the hijacked flight IC-814 ten years ago.

In the tense hours after the attacks, a hoax caller threatened Zardari, posing as India's then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Dawn reported that Sheikh's wife Saadia informed him about the Mumbai carnage on a mobile phone he was using, apparently without the jail administration's knowledge.

Late on November 28, when almost all the Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorists had been killed in Mumbai, Sheikh first called Mukherjee from a United Kingdom-based SIM card. Sheikh was brought up and educated in the UK, and briefly attended the London School of Economics before dropping out to pursue a career in jihad.

After ascertaining it was not really the Pakistan president, Mukherjee's staff informed Sheikh that the foreign minister would call back. Sheikh then called Zardari and General Kayani.

He also called the United States state department to talk to then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, but could not get past the operator at Foggy Bottom, the Washington, DC area where the state department is based.

Soon after receiving the threatening call from someone posing as Mukherjee, Zardari briefed Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rahman Malik. In Rawalpindi, General Kayani spoke to Inter Services Intelligence Chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

A prompt investigation followed; within the next couple of hours Zardari was told that the phone call, which came from the 'Indian external affairs ministry,' was actually made by Sheikh using a British SIM card from a highly secure Pakistan prison.

The next morning, the jail was raided by army officers who seized almost a dozen SIMs, including the British one used for making the hoax calls, and at least two mobile phones from Sheikh. The then jail superintendent, Majid Sidiquee, was suspended.

'It is true that some mobile SIMs and handsets were recovered from Omer Saeed Sheikh when he was here in the Hyderabad jail, and due to this loose system I managed his transfer to the Karachi jail, a better place for such kind of high-profile terrorists,' Allauddin Abbasi, the deputy inspector general, prisons, Hyderabad, told Dawn.

Sheikh is currently imprisoned in a high security cell at the central Karachi jail.

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Rediff News Bureau in Mumbai