Investigation: Did Mossad attempt to infiltrate Islamic radical outfits in south Asia?
by Subir Bhaumik
February 6, 2000
On January 12 Indian intelligence officials in Calcutta detained 11 foreign nationals for interrogation before they were to board a Dhaka-bound Bangladesh Biman flight. They were detained on the suspicion of being hijackers. “But we realised that they were tabliqis (Islamic preachers), so we let them go,” said an intelligence official. They had planned to attend an Islamic convention near Dhaka, but Bangladesh refused them visa. Later, seemingly under Israeli pressure, India allowed them to fly to Tel Aviv.
Where’s the catch? The secret circular that warned of a possible hijack
“They had landing permits at Dhaka, but that’s not visa,” said a diplomat in the Bangladesh High Commission in Delhi. “We decided not to entertain them anymore because we cannot take chances.”
The eleven had Israeli passports but were believed to be Afghan nationals who had spent a while in Iran. They had secured landing permits for Dhaka and one-way tickets on Bangladesh Biman’s Calcutta-Delhi route through a Delhi-based travel agency.
“We have a right to deny travel facility to a passenger even if he has a valid ticket on security grounds,” said a Bangladeshi Biman official who did not want to be named. To the Bangladesh Biman officials the eleven, who were all Muslims, appeared “too murky”.
Indian intelligence officials, too, were surprised by the nationality profile of the eleven. “They are surely Muslims; they say that they have been on tabligh (preaching Islam) in India for two months. But they are Israeli nationals from the West Bank,” said a Central Intelligence official.
He claimed that Tel Aviv “exerted considerable pressure” on Delhi to secure their release. “It appeared that they could be working for a sensitive organisation in Israel and were on a mission to Bangladesh,” the official said. The Israeli intelligence outfit, Mossad, is known to recruit Shia Muslims to penetrate Islamic radical networks.
“It is not unlikely for Mossad to recruit 11 Afghans in Iran and grant them Israeli citizenship to penetrate a network such as Bin Laden’s. They would begin by infiltrating them into an Islamic radical group in an unlikely place like Bangladesh,” said intelligence analyst Ashok Debbarma. The pressure exerted on India by Israel for the release of the men, and the hurry with which they were flown back suggested an aborted operation’.
Mossad watchers say the operation was possibly blown off by “unwelcome intervention” in a friendly country, and they decided to pull out.
The Calcutta immigration authorities may have laid their hands on the wrong people. They were looking for Islamic radicals attempting hijack.
On January 11, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) issued a top secret circular (NO: ER/BCAS/PIC/CIRCULAR/99), quoting “an intelligence input” about a possible hijack attempt on a Bangladesh Biman aircraft originating out of India. Copies of the circular signed by regional deputy commissioner of security (Calcutta Airport), L. Singsit, were issued to relevant Indian agencies and Bangladesh Biman’s station manager in Calcutta, Md. Shahjahan. It said that eight “Pushtu-speaking Mujahideen” had infiltrated into India for the purpose.
The circular also specified the motive behind the hijack: to secure the release of the prime accused in the Mujib-ur-Rehman assassination case including Major (later Colonel) Farooq Rehman and Major Bazlul Huda.
“Dhaka told us to take no chances,” said a Bangladesh Biman official. The Sheikh Hasina government is aware of the international links of the Mujib-killers. While Libya had sheltered some of them in the 70s and early 80s, middle eastern countries helped others evade justice. Major (later Colonel) Khondakhar Abdul Rashid, one of Colonel Farooq’s co-plotters, is said to be in Saudi Arabia, where he maintains close links with Pakistan’s ISI.
Meanwhile, Indian intelligence officials are still on the hunt for “Pushtu-speaking hijackers”. An additional director with Central Intelligence said at least four hijackers were in eastern India.
If the terrorists manage to extricate the likes of Colonel Farooq through a hijack, it will boost the Ôanti-Indian Islamic forces’ in Bangladesh, particularly the agitation against the Hasina government.
With a less India-friendly government in Dhaka, Pakistan’s ISI could step up its help to the insurgents in the northeast.
(The author is BBC’s eastern India correspondent)
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