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Dawood hiding in plain sight with new identity: US experts
MADHAV NALAPAT  New York | 25th Jul 2015

Experts in counter-terrorism activities say that there is "credible information that India's most wanted person", Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, aka Sheikh Dawood Hassan, who, ironically, was the son of a Mumbai police constable of known integrity, "was in March 2003 given a new identity and accompanying papers by the ISI, in order to reduce the chances of detection and to facilitate his travel to multiple locations across the globe, including South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Portugal and Dubai". They say that this identity change was carried out once it was confirmed that the United States (responding to repeated requests by the A.B. Vajpayee government at the level of Home Minister L.K. Advani and National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra) would declare Dawood a Specially Designated International Terrorist. This was done in October 2003, or six months after Dawood's identity makeover. According to these sources, "such a step had no effect on Dawood's international operations, both business and terror-related", in view of the fact that he was thereby enabled to travel safely to multiple locations through use of the documents prepared for him by the ISI. They claim that Dawood was made aware in advance — presumably by the Pakistan authorities — that he would be labelled an international terrorist by the US. Responding to this, towards the close of 2002 itself, the canny fugitive had transferred properties which were in his name to nominees and benamis, so that nothing of any value was seized anywhere in the world, including in India, where he has substantial assets, especially in Mumbai and Hyderabad.

Terrorism, hawala and narcotics go hand in hand in Dawood's business empire, which at its peak had an estimated annual turnover of $4 billion in value before beginning a decline around 2007, because of increased US tracking of his assets and the financial networks operating on his behalf in Hong Kong and Singapore. The heightened interest was because of the expansion of operations of the LeT to Europe. "During 2006-2011, (Dawood) sold much of his international businesses and relocated some assets to India and most to Pakistan", these US-based sources claimed, adding that there was little effective countering of Dawood's operations in India during the period in office of both Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. But they added that "the heat has increased after (Prime Minister) Modi took over in 2014". During Narendra Modi's visit to the US in September 2014, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval stayed an extra two days in Washington "mainly to work out ways of capturing or otherwise incapacitating Dawood". They add that Doval told his US interlocutors that he had been on the fugitive's trail for two decades, and that he wanted to ensure success in the hunt during his tenure in office as the NSA.

However, the problem facing the sleuths in India is that the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts has been travelling under a new legal identity since 2003, and has adopted a very low profile, shunning the high-profile events he was earlier seen in, "although he retains his contacts with Bollywood and is working to ensure through his contacts that favourites of his be given meaty roles". They say that sports and movies are his favourite hobbies, as well as being money-spinners, mainly through match-fixing in the case of the first and influence over distribution networks in the subcontinent in the case of the second.

These sources claim that "the 26/11 attack could not have succeeded the way it did but for longstanding contacts within the Mumbai police and state political network of Dawood and his close associates". They claim that "high-level politicians, afraid of being implicated through Dawood ensured that the domestic angle was never seriously probed by the police following the blasts", with the bulk of attention being focused on captured operative Ajmal Kasab and his contacts in Pakistan. "It was as though the investigators were told not to believe that there was a network in India, which provided information to ISI proxies about the interior layout and work schedules of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident hotels." These sources claim that "at least two employees of Taj and another of Trident" gave details about the hotel to planners in Pakistan. But none of the three "were questioned by the police and in fact remained in service after the blasts". However, on the Indian side, police authorities in Mumbai claim that no employee of either hotel was involved in the planning for the 26/11 attack, nor was there any input from domestic networks. "It helped such a surmise of domestic non-involvement that handlers in Pakistan cut off all communications with their collaborators in India 16 days before the attack", these experts claimed.

Although there have been reports of Dawood hiding in PoK or in a remote location close to the Afghan border, US sources say that like Osama bin Laden before his assassination, Dawood is "hiding in plain sight" and in comfort, shuttling between homes in Peshawar, Hyderabad (Sindh) and Lahore and that he is in regular touch with family members in both Pakistan as well as India, sometimes directly but usually through trusted associates who travel freely in both countries and who are not known to law enforcement to have any connection with Dawood himself.

However, the don is "still very much in charge of the operations of the companies he owns", as well as his traditional business of extracting money from businesspersons in India, besides dealings in real estate, mainly in Maharashtra, his home state "where he knows several officials and politicians, even meeting in the past with them in locations where his actual identity is safe from detection". The sources claim that "a director-general of police and five inspectors-general of police and DIGs have worked for Dawood in the past". However, they add that since the new government took office in 2014, conditions have become more difficult.

A claim made by these sources is that Dawood in 2006 travelled on an international flight from the UAE to South Africa and "the seat next to him was occupied by a senior politician who knew whom he was talking to throughout the journey". They claim that "up to 2008 (when the Mumbai attacks took place), at least two senior NDA leaders and four top UPA personalities were in direct and indirect contact" with the reclusive Enemy Number One of India, but that "after 26/11, all but one of the six stopped further contact". However, even this remaining holdout among the VVIP Six "stopped contact with Dawood in 2011".

The counter-terrorism experts say that Dawood's family is "almost totally unaware of the new identity of their internationally known relative as given in the travel documents", supplied to Dawood 12 years ago, and that these papers are used "only while travelling internationally and domestically and in financial transactions", so that the names and aliases of Dawood do not come up on any record, including those of banks and airlines. They add that since 2011, the don has ceased communicating directly through telephone, and is using close aides to relay his messages. Since 2012, he has even restricted his travel, confining himself to locations within Pakistan. The New York sources give high marks to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval for his persistence in trying to bring Dawood back to India, but say that in view of the change in the records establishing his identity, such a task would be difficult without the cooperation of Pakistan, something unlikely to be forthcoming.

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