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How Sabahuddin Ahmed became Lashkar's blue-eyed boy

By Vicky Nanjappa
November 12, 2009 09:47 IST
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In Part I, Vicky Nanjappa delved into the dossier on Sabahuddin Ahmed and revealed how the other Indian standing trial in the 26/11 case embarked on the path of jihad.

Here, Vicky chronicles how Ahmed rose quickly from the ranks of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba to become an important member of the Pakistan-based terror organisation.

From an unassuming native of Bihar to a dreaded Lashkar-e-Tayiba terrorist, Sabahuddin Ahmed has come a long way in just six years.

His rise came despite his Lashkar minders's unhappiness over the attack on the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, which they felt had not gone according to plan. Ahmed was even pulled up for wasting a large amount of money on the terror operation.

This failure not withstanding, Ahmed was elected to meet top Inter Services Intelligence officers in Pakistan and chosen to carry out the New Year's day 2008 attack on the Central Reserve Police Force camp in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. He also supervised fellow Indian Fahim Ansari's survey of targets identified for the Mumbai attacks. Ahmed was, by then, Lashkar's chief of operations in Nepal.

The mammoth dossier on Ahmed available with Indian security agencies suggests that he returned to Pakistan immediately after the IISc attack. After receiving a dressing down from Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhwi, Lashkar's terror-in-charge, Ahmed stayed at a Lashkar camp to train other youth.

He also involved himself in the technical side of terror and created a database of fake e-mail IDs for terrorists.

Convinced by his keen interest in terror, Lashkar leaders sent Ahmed to Bangladesh. He was sent in at a time when Lashkar and Harkat-ul-Jihadi terrorists were having trouble crossing over into India. Ahmed left for Bangladesh in December 2006 with two satellite phones and several SIM cards, which were to be handed to terrorists there.

In Bangladesh he met a man named Jahangir and with him, plotted a safe route for terrorists into India. Ahmed stayed on in Bangladesh till February 2007.

Impressed with his work, the Lashkar sent him to Nepal. Ahmed told his Indian interrogators that he stayed in Kathmandu for a month doing nothing. He enrolled for a computer course on March 10, 2007, and rented a house.

A few days later, Muzzamil, another Lashkar top terrorist, told him a man named Sohail alias Mohammad Sharif would meet him in Nepal. Muzzamil instructed Ahmed to train Sohail since he was a failed terrorist.

Sohail had been sent to India and asked to target the Kanwarias, devotees of Lord Shiva who carry Ganga Jal (water from the river Ganga) on their heads and walk to Hardwar. Sohail failed in his diabolic mission; Ahmed was asked to meet him and find out why. Later, he told Muzzamil that Sohail's mission had failed due to lack of hard work.

Ahmed trained Sohail for a couple of months and then sent him back to Pakistan. Impressed with his work, he was asked to take care of Lashkar's Nepal operations. Several men were sent to him for training; he also set up several routes from Nepal to infiltrate India.

Muzzamil then asked Ahmed to plan the attack in Uttar Pradesh. The CRPF camp in Rampur was identified. Three terrorists -- Sahzad, Sohail and Mohammad Farooq Bhatti -- were assigned to carry out this attack. Ahmed helped the trio cross the border. The Lashkar leadership deemed the attack a success. Ahmed was nominated a bigger player in the terror network's future operations.

Ahmed's statement to Indian intelligence agencies indicates that the plan to carry out an attack in Mumbai began to take shape on January 23, 2008. Muzzamil asked him to meet Fahim Ansari, who is also being tried for his role in the Mumbai attacks.

Ahmed had met Ansari once before, in Kathmandu, in November 2007, when he had traveled from Pakistan.

Last year, he helped Ansari, a resident of Mumbai, cross over to India where he began to collect information on various targets in his native city.

According to Indian officials who interrogated Ahmed, he was extremely crucial to the Lashkar's plans. The fact that he met with top ISI officers during his stay in Pakistan is an indication that the Lashkar had a lot of faith in him.

Before interrogating him, the police visualised him as a hardcore terrorist. Two officers, who interrogated Ahmed in Bengaluru, told that they were taken aback when they began to question him.

Ahmed was very soft spoken and extremely cooperative during the interrogation. The 25-year-old Bihari native attempted being friendly with his interrogators and tried to convince them about the problems that Muslim youth faced in India. He also explained why he was compelled to take to jihad.

He never posed as an accused during the entire interrogation. He portrayed himself as a victim at all times. At one point he took the interrogators by surprise when he said, 'You people have never operated an AK-47 rifle. I know that and I also know the kind of weapons you people use. I have a great deal of expertise in handling the AK-47. I can teach all of you about the weapon.'

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Vicky Nanjappa