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Context of 'August-October 2001: Britain Seeks Indian Assistance in Catching Saeed Sheikh'

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Saeed in an Indian hospital shortly after being arrestedSaeed in an Indian hospital shortly after being arrested [Source: Indian Express]Saeed Sheikh is imprisoned in India for kidnapping Westerners. While there, he meets Aftab Ansari, another prisoner, an Indian gangster who will be released from prison near the end of 1999. [India Today, 2/25/2002] Saeed also meets another prisoner named Asif Raza Khan, who also is released in 1999. [Rediff, 11/17/2001] After Saeed is rescued from prison at the end of 1999, he works with Ansari and Khan to kidnap Indians and then uses some of the profits to fund the 9/11 attacks. [Frontline (Chennai), 2/2/2002; India Today, 2/14/2002] Saeed also becomes good friends with prisoner Maulana Masood Azhar, a militant with al-Qaeda connections. [Sunday Times (London), 4/21/2002] Saeed will later conduct operations together with Azhar’s group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. [Independent, 2/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Aftab Ansari, Asif Raza Khan, Maulana Masood Azhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision.Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 12/31/1999] Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2000] He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Washington Post, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 112-113] In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. [CNN, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Indian Airlines Flight 814, Devi Sharan, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi, Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

British intelligence asks India for legal assistance in catching Saeed Sheikh sometime during August 2001. Saeed has been openly living in Pakistan since 1999 and has even traveled to Britain at least twice during that time, despite having kidnapped Britons and Americans in 1993 and 1994. [London Times, 4/21/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] According to the Indian media, informants in Germany tell the internal security service there that Saeed helped fund hijacker Mohamed Atta. [Frontline, 10/13/2001] On September 23, it is revealed, without explanation, that the British have asked India for help in finding Saeed. [London Times, 9/23/2001] Saeed Sheikh’s role in training the hijackers and financing the 9/11 attacks soon becomes public knowledge, though some elements are disputed. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001; CNN, 10/6/2001; CNN, 10/8/2001] The Gulf News claims that the US freezes the assets of Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed on October 12, 2001, because it has established links between Saeed Sheikh and 9/11. [Gulf News, 10/11/2001] However, in October, an Indian magazine notes, “Curiously, there seems to have been little international pressure on Pakistan to hand [Saeed] over” [Frontline, 10/13/2001] , and the US does not formally ask Pakistan for help to find Saeed until January 2002.

Entity Tags: Jaish-e-Mohammed, United States, India, Pakistan, Mohamed Atta, Saeed Sheikh, United Kingdom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A terrorist lies dead near the entrance to the Indian Parliament building.A terrorist lies dead near the entrance to the Indian Parliament building. [Source: R. V. Moorthy]The Indian Parliament building in New Delhi is attacked by Islamic militants. Fourteen people, including the five attackers, are killed. India blames the Pakistani militant groups Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba for the attacks. Twelve days later, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, is arrested by Pakistan and his group is banned. He is freed one year later. [Agence France-Presse, 12/25/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] The Parliament attack leads to talk of war, even nuclear war, between Pakistan and India, until Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cracks down on militant groups in early January. [Daily Telegraph, 12/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 1/3/2002; Guardian, 5/25/2002] As a result of the rising tensions, Pakistani troop deployments near the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan are halted, allowing many al-Qaeda and Taliban to escape into Pakistan (see December 10, 2001). It appears that Saeed Sheikh and Aftab Ansari, working with the ISI, were also involved in the attacks. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Maulana Masood Azhar, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Saeed Sheikh, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Aftab Ansari

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Maulana Masood Azhar.Maulana Masood Azhar. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]A Pakistani court frees Maulana Masood Azhar, a member of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, from prison. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] Two weeks later, he is freed from house arrest. He was held for exactly one year without charge, the maximum allowed in Pakistan. [Associated Press, 12/29/2002] He was arrested shortly after an attack on the Indian Parliament that was blamed on his organization. In December 1999, he and Saeed Sheikh were rescued by al-Qaeda from an Indian prison, and he has ties to al-Qaeda and possibly the 9/11 attacks. Pakistan frees several other high-level militant leaders in the same month. It is believed they are doing this so they can fight in a secret proxy war with India over Kashmir. US officials have remained silent about the release of Azhar and others Pakistani militant leaders. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/16/2002] The US froze the funds of Jaish-e-Mohammed in October 2001, but the group simply changed its name to al-Furqan, and the US has not frozen the funds of the “new” group. [Financial Times, 2/8/2003; Washington Post, 2/8/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Maulana Masood Azhar, Saeed Sheikh, al-Furqan, Jaish-e-Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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