How did Muzamil Bhat get away?

As the Tawwahur Rana trial draws to a close, there will always be a big question mark on the one man who got away during this entire proceeding. The name of Muzamil Bhat who today without a doubt is one of the biggest operatives in the Lashkar-e-Tayiba has been given a miss.

David Headley the man who has been doing all the talking during the Chicago trial has remained surprisingly quiet about Muzamil. Investigations in India at least have clearly shown the links between the two men despite which this name figures no where during the trial.

Bhat was not some low level operative. He is the man who imparted training to all the ten terrorists who staged the 26/11 attack. Indian investigations clearly go on to show that he had not only trained them in combat but had also given them the specifics of the targets to be attacked as well as how they were supposed to take control of the targets.

This is exactly where the Headley-Bhat link begins. Headley was the man in possession of all the data regarding the targets. During his visit to Pakistan following the recee, he has met with Bhat and discussed the targets based on which the training was imparted to the ten terrorists. This gives a clear indication that there was a close link between the two of them.

The case pertaining to Bhat has not been easy for any of the investigators. Indian investigators too have found it very hard to build a strong case against him. The United States too have faced the same problem and moreover Headley is very quiet regarding Bhat.

Immediately after the attack, the name of Bhat had done the rounds several times. Prior to this attack the intelligence intercepts on him all emerged from the Valley since he was one of the primary warriors for the Lashkar-e-Tayiba over there. A master at combat, he has risen to very high ranks in the Lashkar. In fact the Intelligence Bureau says that he was second to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi in the Lashkar ranks. This fact was proven when he immediately took over as operational chief of the outfit the moment Lakhvi was sent behind bars. Pakistan claims that it has arrested Bhat too, but his name does not figure anywhere in their investigations which they are supposedly doing on the very same case.

The question now is why there is so much mystery surrounding Bhat. The IB says that there is a manner in which each operative is trained to speak. When Headley was trained by the ISI, he would have been clearly told whose names to reveal and whose not to reveal in case he is arrested. The IB also says that Muzamil Bhat was a name which they wanted to protect very badly and hence there is very little being spoken about him. Moreover the ISI was aware that once the investigations commence, the usual suspects would have been Hafiz Saeed and Lakhvi. They were also aware that there would have been pressure on arresting them. In such an event, it would have become very difficult for the operations to run and hence they needed some names especially of those who are second in command to be concealed.

The Indian case on Muzamil Bhat too is not all that strong. There is not really much information that has generated on this man. India will need access to more data such as the voice samples, the call records between Headley and his handlers in order to build up a stronger case against Bhat.

Today Bhat according to the IB is at Muzafarabad and is running a new camp of the Lashkar. Such things only make the case even more difficult because according to Pakistan he has been arrested. It is very difficult to argue on that, Indian agencies say. They have done the same with Sajid Mir and the case is similar where Bhat is concerned. The fact that Bhat was a close contact of Headley is something that needs to be established. Further details on this are expected to come out once the NIA questions Rana and if possible Headley once again.

India has however decided not to wait for any other court to pass a verdict on Bhat. We will have to conduct our own investigations and the NIA chargesheet will take Bhat’s name so that he is tried in India at least. For India he was a crucial link in the 26/11 attack since he is the man who trained all the terrorists.

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What does Rana have in store?

The allegations levelled by the prosecution in Chicago against Tawwahur Rana is very similar to the information that the National Investigating Agency has collected on the man. The prosecution in its closing arguments made it clear that it was Rana who helped his friend David Headley carry out the 26/11 attack.
Sources in the NIA say that the charges against Rana levelled by the prosecution is similar to what we have on him. He had opened a branch office of his immigration law business which is said to have provided cover for Headley when he went about scouting targets for the 26/11 attacks.
NIA sources however say that they were looking for more information and this was supposed to come out of the horse’s mouth. Our independent investigations have shown that Rana had constantly helped Headley in his endevours. The NIA which will probe Rana after the completion of the trial at Chicago will book him on criminal conspiracy charges, sources said.
However there is one interesting point made by the prosecution during the course of the arguments at Chicago. The prosecution apart from speaking about the 26/11 attack had also claimed that both Rana and Headley had plans for the future as well. The prosecution makes a clear mention that the duo had future goals as well.
The NIA says that during their investigations, they have found that both of them had most of their plans in India. Although the ISI was using both these men for global operations, the maximum data that they have managed to collect has been on India. Rana had not helped Headley only for the 26/11 attack, but he had assisted him in each of his other operations, be it in Delhi or even Pune. The agreement between the two was very clear. Headley had been trained to scout targets while Rana an expert with documents helped him cover his operations. The fact of the matter is that Rana was always in the know of what Headley was up to and they reported to the same handlers in Pakistan.
However when the NIA manages to get permission to interrogate Rana, the questioning would be three pronged. The most important one would be pertaining to the 26/11 attack which would be followed by his ISI links. However for the NIA, the questioning regarding his future operations will also be extremely crucial. The NIA has in its possession certain documents relating to Rana’s visit to Kochi.
A team of the NIA which has been working on this aspect of the case say that he had visited Kochi in Kerala. IGP of the NIA, Loknath Behra had said that there was a headway made in this direction of the probe and in due course of time the details will be made known.
Sources however add that his purpose of the Kochi visit was clearly to conduct a recee. There were locals in Kochi who have helped Rana. Investigations till date show that his visit was more of an exercise to lay the ground work. When one looks at the Rana visit in the light of the statement by Ilyas Kashmiri, it does make sense that this man visited Kerala. Kashmiri had clearly stated that he wanted cadres from Kerala to carry out his ambitious Ghazb-e-Hind project. Moreover Kashmiri was also in touch with Headley and their proximity is not something that is unknown.
Rana had visited Kochi under the guise of an immigration consultant. All through he was acting as per the instructions of the ISI. Sources also add that he may have set up fronts in Kerala like how he did for Headley so that terror cadres could carry out operations under cover. The fact that he conducted a recee is yet to be ascertained since Rana was not trained to do that.
The NIA says that his visit to Kerala was for a specific purpose. His interrogation would reveal the exact details. When Rana was in Kerala, he had placed an advertisement in a local paper inviting visa seekers to both the US and Canada. This according to investigating agencies was a cover up and this front was possibly used to get cadres under one umbrella which Kashmiri was speaking about.

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Reliability of Headley and the Indian position

Photo-The Hindu

The turn around which Indian investigating agencies were expecting in the Tawwahur Rana case finally happened with David Headley testifying that the top leadership of the ISI had nothing to do with the 26/11 attack.

Indian agencies who would be visiting the US during July to interrogate Rana say that they did expect Headley’s testimony to be full of twists and turns. While interrogating Headley we did realize that he was a smart operative and was capable to changing versions. However during his interrogation with both the FBI and the NIA, his versions did remain intact. The NIA will stick to what he has told them during their interrogation and the chargesheet would be filed on that basis. However the final chargesheet would corroborate the statements of both Headley and Rana following which the versions would be matched, NIA sources also said.

Headley’s testimony and versions were always suspect and anyone who thought that he was speaking the whole truth and not trying to save his own skin is a fool. Indian intelligence sources say that it is next to impossible to believe that only a part of the ISI was in the know of the 26/11 attack. The ISI has been a very strong element till date only because of the manner in which they perfectly follow the hierarchy. There have been no defectors from the ISI till date and nothing at all against the top leadership within the ISI is even remotely possible. If  a considerable small person like Sabahuddin claims that he had met with Asfhaq Kiyani, then it is highly unlikely that likes of David Headley and Rana would have been oblivious to the top leadership.

Coming back to Headley, Indian agencies say that they do expect Rana to retort since he must be feeling let down. Rana and Headley who knew each other from childhood are now sort of at logger heads in theChicagocourt. Hence today it becomes even more interesting to see what Rana would have to say against Headley in court.

Indian agencies share the view point of the defence attornerys in thChicagotrial. They had said that Headley’s version is unreliable and he had implicated Rana in the plot with a view of making a deal with the prosecutors. Moreover Headley right from the start was keen on playing safe and immediately entered into a plea bargain with the US authorities. He would do anything to get a better deal from the prosecution now and is capable of spinning a lot of stories in the court. Rana’ attorney, Charles Swift too was forced to mention to the press that Headley hides the truth from everyone and he is like a spider who maneuvers everything in the web so it works out his way.

Indian agencies say that the turn around against Rana was an expected one. The moment he entered into a plea bargain, he donned the role of a government witness. The evidence by such persons is always considered tainted and hence the final call would be upon the judge whether to believe this evidence or not. After examination of the confession and cross examination will the judge take into account the statements. Moreover judges all over the world are more cautious while passing orders on the statements made by approvers.

India however would have to worry too much about these flip flops, sources say. Indian agencies would go strictly by his confession. In Indian terminology Headley would be termed as an approver.Indiacould also exercise a similar option with Headley and also Rana when they commence their case here. While their statements would have to be examined during the trial, it still would makeIndia’s case much easier considering the fact that it is hard to extradite these two men, especially Headley who has entered into a plea bargain.

While the David Headley case appears to an open and shut one for the Indian agencies, the issue would however be the testimony against the ISI. ForIndia, the ISI link to the 26/11 case is an extremely important one and they did have a lot of expectations from these testimonies. At first it appeared as though Headley would nail the top brass of the ISI, but today there clearly is a diversion. We would need to wait for Rana’s testimony and see whether he sticks to his statements. It is not as though we are putting all our eggs into one basket and basing our case entirely on what happens inChicago. We have our independent investigation to show that even the top brass of the ISI was in the know of this attack, sources also pointed out. However we cannot jump the gun on any of the issues since the trial is still on and we have no choice but to wait for that to conclude before we make our move.

 

Headley is old news, time for Rana

Indian agencies are keeping a close watch on the developments at Chicago where the high profile 26/11 trial is underway. Senior Indian officials say that the important thing about this ongoing trial is that India’s claim has been vindicated and this trial has more emphasis on the ISI when compared to the Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

What David Headley has said is nothing new, but it does give a boost to the entire case. What these depositions show is that the ISI happens to control every terror network operating out of Pakistan and now there will be pressure on that agency to owe up to its crime.

Indian agencies had maintained since day one that such an attack could not have been undertaken without the blessings of the ISI. Our own investigations have shown that Rana and Headley were constantly in touch with the ISI right from the planning stage. There was no way in which both could have worked out the logistics without the help of the establishment.

While Indian agencies maintain that the Headley testimony has details which were already known to one and all, the ongoing one would have more weight since it is being recorded by a court. Although Pakistan has been quick to deny the involvement of the ISI in this attack, they would still have a lot to answer when they have to defend themselves before the court which is likely to issue summons.

However for India the more important deposition would be that of Rana’s. They are hopeful that he would stick to his earlier stand where in he had said that he was an ISI operative and not a cadre of the Lashkar. This part would be interesting and would go on to show that he was not some mere terror operative, but a man of the establishment.

The NIA has its task cut out and would leave for Chicago once the formalities in the trial are completed. It is a fact that the Headley interrogation has not provided India with the desired information since he has not diverted even a centimetre from what he had said to the FBI while seeking a plea bargain. While Headley provided the larger picture of the attack and the planning, Rana would be the man who give the Indian agencies the nitty grittys of the attack, sources also said. For instance Headley would speak in a broader perspective regarding the ISI and also goes on to name Major Mazhar Iqbal as one of the key operatives in the attack. However with each of these persons working with several aliases, it would be tough for any agency to determine who exactly these persons are. However Rana is expected to sing more during his trial and interrogation since it is clear that he is looking to be tried as an ISI operative rather than a mere terror operative, official sources also said.

India’s first attempt would be to try and extradite Rana as it feels that it is important that he is tried in India rather than in-absentia. However the chances of any extradition is only a ten per cent chance and in such an event a team of the Intelligence Bureau and the NIA will be dispatched to Chicago to interrogate the man. However unlike the Headley case, India would not rush into this since they would not want to be caught in any embarrassing situation like they were in the last time around. Moreover the questionnaire for Rana is already under preparation and India would finalise it once the trial is over. However we are hopeful that the Rana interrogation would be a more independent one when compared to the Headley interrogation due to obvious reasons.