Low-key condemnation of 11/26 mastermind Sajid Mir shows Pakistan’s vague terror crackdown

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NOTinety four for six, chasing 309: As the futility of praying became apparent, the chipped pride of Indian cricket fans escalated in a tantrum, a rain of plastic bottles and Hindustani invective flying from the stands on the immaculate greens of Delhi’s Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium. The hundreds of Pakistani visitors who came to watch the game – among them a thin young man with a well-trimmed beard, his hair parted in the middle – watched impassively. Perhaps he imagined another triumph, yet to come, as I wrote before.

The man in the stands on that day in March 2005, Lashkar-e-Taiba 26/11 operational chief Sajid Mir was secretly tried and convicted by a Lahore counter-terrorism court last week – part of Pakistan’s pledges to lift the country out of sanctions by the multinational terrorist finance watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force or FATF.

From a home in Karachi, Mir reportedly guided the 26/11 kill team in real time, using a voice over internet connection – at one point intervening to order execution of a hostage, Rivka Holtzberg. Mir, according to investigators, also organized the reconnaissance operations led by Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley, who laid the groundwork for the attack.

Even though Mir has been reported held by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) since 2011, Islamabad has long denied knowledge of his whereabouts, as I have pointed out earlier. In 2019, the United States Government noted that Mir was “widely suspected of residing in Pakistan under state protection, despite government denials”.

The Lashkar commander’s condemnation now aims to show that Islamabad is changing course. The twisted trajectory of Mir’s story raises questions about how long she will hold the new course.

Pakistani Sajid Mir, mastermind of the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai

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The French connection

Few fragments have become available on the life of Sajid Mir. According to the passport used by Mir to travel to India, he was born in 1976 into an ethnic Punjabi family of refugees from partition. Mir’s father, Abdul Majid, worked for a time in Saudi Arabia, before returning to Pakistan to set up a small textile business. After graduating from university in Lahore, Indian intelligence officials with knowledge of the matter told ThePrint that Mir married the daughter of a retired Pakistani army Maulvi and fathered at least two children.

Then evidence began to emerge that Mir had become a central figure in a plot to set the world on fire.

After 9/11, Willie Brigitte, a former French cadet born in Guadeloupe, arrived in pakistan seeking to fight alongside the Taliban. Converted to Islam, Brigitte had become involved in the neo-integrist networks of mosques in the Couronnes district of Paris, linked to the Algerian Salafist Jihadist Group for Preaching and Combat, now known as Al- Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Brigitte ended up in a Lashkar training camp near Muzaffarabad, along with recruits from several other countries. ‘Bill’, French judge Jean Louis Bruguière wrote later, had two bodyguards constantly present. For his students, it emerged that “Sajid Mir was a high-ranking officer in the Pakistani military and was apparently also part of the ISI”.

In 2003, traveling on a ticket paid for by Mir, Brigitte traveled to Australia, with orders to survey potential targets with Pakistani-born architect Fahim Lodhi, including a nuclear reactor near Sydney. French intelligence, however, had maintained surveillance of Brigitte and informed their counterparts in Sydney.

Lodhi now serves a perpetuity in Australia. Brigitte was sentenced to nine years in prison in France, was released, then left for the Islamic State with his fourth wife and a child, where he is suspected of having Was killed in the fights.


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Globalization of Lashkar

The jihad network that the Lashkar nurtured developed similar branches around the world in the years after 9/11, intelligence agencies quickly discovered. eleven men were sentenced in the United States until 2004-2005 for leading a jihad network in Virginia. Four of them, it was revealed, had trained at the camp run by Mir. UK bomb plotters Omar Khayam and Dhiren Barot also formed with the Lashkar. In 2004, Danish jihadist Lashkar Ahmad, a Kashmir veteran, was held in Iraq.

It is unclear exactly how Mir ended up at the center of these networks. Indian intelligence has no record suggesting he served in Kashmir, where the Lashkar military operations took place. extremely concentrated.

From the work of researcher C. Christine Fair, it is clear that the Lashkar shared world view groups like al-Qaeda. Lashkar cadres have fought in conflicts ranging from Tajikistan and Chechnya to Bosnia. In December 1998, the Pakistani newspaper jang reported that jihadists from more than 50 countries attended a convention organized by Markaz Dawat wal’Irshad – Lashkar’s parent organization.

“You can go to any jihadist frontline in the world,” the organization boasted, “and you will find Markaz Dawat wal’Irshad mujahideen crushing the infidels and destroying the strongholds of the devil.”

Jihadists trained in Lashkar have consistently appeared in global counter-terrorism investigations: until 2012, one of three men suspected of being involved in a conspiracy to attack Gibraltar during the London Olympics was found to have trained with the Lashkar.

After 9/11, Pakistan’s military rulers expelled foreigners from Lashkar’s training camps and slowed its operations in Kashmir. The organisation’s infrastructure, however, was intact and after brief periods of incarceration its leadership was once again active.

The Lashkar’s most important asset was the son of gracious Pakistani diplomat Syed Salim Gilani and Philadelphia socialite Serill Headley, one of the many foreigners who arrived at its camps after 9/11. The story of why David Headley ended up there remains opaque. A long time ago credible evidence he was spying for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency: from 2001 to 2008, interestingly, US authorities ignored at least six warnings of his involvement in terrorism.

In 2005, according to Indian and American investigators, the ISI provided funds to Headley to set up a cover business in Mumbai, to mount surveillance on potential targets. Mir’s visit to New Delhi in the same year suggests multiple similar missions. During nine visits to India, overseen by Mir, Headley gathered the footage needed in Lashkar to form the kill team that carried out 11/26.


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Is Pakistan serious?

Since its inclusion on the FATF gray list in 2018, Pakistan has sought to demonstrate that it is acting against Lashkar. In February 2020, LeT leader Hafiz Saeed was sentenced to two consecutive five-year terms for financing terrorism, and received another 31 year sentence in April. His deputies, Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi and Abdul Rehman Maki, were also sentenced to prison terms, as were a series of second rank digits– even though none of the lawsuits were directly related to 11/26.

“Even though Saeed technically does not roam the streets, the Pakistani government’s failure to win the case against him is embarrassing,” US Ambassador Anne Patterson wrote in a statement. 2009 diplomatic cable. This embarrassment, Pakistan now claims to have repaired.

There is, however, reason to suspect that there is less to these actions than meets the eye. Following his conviction in 2020, as I have Noted earlier, Saeed was transferred from Kot Lakhpat prison in Lahore and returned to his three-story white house at 116E Johar Town, where he was targeted for assassination last year in a bombing that Pakistan says was carried out by Indian intelligence. Since 9/11, Saeed has been imprisoned at least nine times, only to be released a few weeks later.

Lakhvi, for his part, has been reported to have unrestricted visitor and internet access in prison. He was even rumored to have fathered a child.

Even more troubling, from India’s perspective, second-tier Lashkar commanders, such as accused 11/26 military trainer Muzammil Bhat and Sajid Saifullah Jatt, stay active– smuggling weapons and cadres through the Line of Control in Kashmir. Likewise, the ISI officers named in Headley’s testimony were never investigated, let alone prosecuted.

The source of the Lashkar’s influence is not difficult to understand. The organization’s vast network of seminaries, schools and charitable institutions, Notes by Neil Padukone, means that it “replaced Jamaat-e-Islami, the original vanguard of the Islamic revolution, as the center of political Islamism in Pakistan”. The jihadist ideal enjoys significant support both within political parties and the army.

Fearing a backlash, the Pakistani state has refrained from breaking definitively with the jihadist movement. Lashkar jihadists will remain in jail until FATF lifts threat of punishment, but that’s unlikely to be the end of the story. The elephant in the room remains, just hidden behind a curtain.

The author is National Security Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @praveenswami. Views are personal.

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