In 1996, Masood Azhar told
Sobhraj about plan to attack Mumbai
By Sudeshna Sarkar
Dec 10 (IANS) Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar had disclosed
his plans to attack India's finance hub Mumbai, the Indian
parliament and power plants 12 years ago to a fellow prisoner
in Delhi's Tihar Jail - international criminal Charles Sobhraj
who says he was later asked by India to negotiate with Azhar
during the Kandahar hijack.
unusual friendship was struck up in 1996 when Azhar was shifted
to Tihar Jail after being arrested in Jammu and Kashmir. Serving
out the last years of his nearly 20-year stint was Sobhraj,
who was wanted by the police of nearly a dozen countries.
taught Masood English and he told me about his ideology and
what he wanted to do," Sobhraj told IANS when author
Farrukh Dhondy resurrected Sobhraj's forgotten friendship
with the Islamic cleric during the launch of his new book
was released in 1997 and began fashioning a new life for himself
he says his frequent visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan kept
some of his old associations alive. And so, two years later
in 1999 on Christmas Eve, when militants hijacked an Indian
Airlines plane from Kathmandu to Afghanistan, then Indian
external affairs minister Jaswant Singh sent an envoy to Paris
to ask him to negotiate with Azhar's group for the release
of the hostages.
contacted Masood's party in Pakistan and got from them the
firm assurance that for 11 days no hostages would be harmed,
meaning India had 11 days to reach a deal," said Sobhraj,
currently lodged in Kathmandu's Central Jail for the murder
of an American tourist in 1975.
Sobhraj says he declined to intervene when some time later
India's Intelligence Bureau called him up to say that Azhar
was with them and asked him to persuade the cleric to release
declined," says Sobhraj. "As I knew of Masood's
mind, he would certainly refuse."
their stay together in Tihar, Sobhraj says Azhar had yet not
founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which is now one of India's
most wanted terror organisations. He was general secretary
of a militant outfit, Harkat-ul-Ansar, that was also linked
with a shadowy group, Al Faran, which claimed responsibility
in 1995 for the abduction of five foreign tourists in Jammu
Sobhraj says, had talked about plans to launch attacks on
Mumbai, India's parliament and major power plants.
Kandahar hijack drama ended on New Year's Eve with the release
of Azhar and two more prisoners - British national Ahmed Omar
Sayed Sheikh and Pakistani Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar.
is also said to have been involved in the attack on India's
parliament in 2001 and later, in the murder in Pakistan of
American journalist Daniel Pearl.
his path veered off from Azhar's after his release from Tihar,
Sobhraj, who says he is no longer in contact with the cleric,
has, however, been following the careers of both his former
prison pal and Sheikh.
last month an unknown organisation calling itself the Deccan
Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in
Mumbai that left over 179 people dead, Sobhraj dismissed the
claim saying it was a "facade".
Masood and his JeM or the Lashkar-e-Taiba would be capable
of such meticulous planning," he had said.
Indian parliament was attacked by terrorists in Dec 13, 2001
- 14 people were killed, including the terrorists.