March 2002 News

Omar bought book on IC-814

9 March 2002
The Indian Express
JYOTI MALHOTRA

ISLAMABAD: FOR two whole years, a young British national called Omar Saeed Sheikh wandered all over Pakistan after he was released by the Indian government in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked IC-814 aircraft. Until he was picked up last month for the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, Omar lived like a free man, dipping in and out of bookshops in the heart of General Pervez Musharraf's Islamabad. And one of his favourite haunts was Mister Books, where he once bought an account of the IC-814 hijacking. The evocatively named bookstore is located in the tree-lined capital's major shopping complex, very close to the nation's major landmarks - a now-defunct Parliament, a still-active Supreme Court and an all-powerful Presidential residence. Omar would often drop in at Mister Books, perhaps to catch up on the reading he had to forego at the London School of Economics, once he became a full-time jehadi a few years ago. Mohammed Eusoph, the soft-spoken director of Mister Books, readily acknowledges that Omar frequently dropped in. "He would come here all the time and buy lots of books. Once he bought a book on the Indian aircraft that was hijacked to Kandahar some time ago. Another time he bought at least ten-eleven books, then specifically asked me for a year-book on India. He gave me his mobile phone number and told me to call him when I had the book. I did, and he came back to get it," Eusoph told The Indian Express. It happened that on the day Omar gave his phone number to Eusoph, an Indian official, also an avid reader, had gone to check out the latest titles at Mister Books. The Indian official recognised the tall man from all the news and TV photos and later got talking to Eusoph about him. They called the mobile number and when a male voice answered, they asked for Omar Sheikh. It was him. Eusoph seems absolutely shocked about the fact that one of his former clients and a keen reader at that could have done something as horrendous as kidnapping Pearl. He shakes his head disbelievingly, saying again and again, "I still have his mobile number." As Pakistan goes through the painful process of reforming itself in the hope of becoming a state governed by the rule of law, so many things seem unusual, even unnatural. Not least the fact that a journalist could be picked up and killed in cold blood. Equally frightening is the murder, two months ago, of the brother of the powerful Interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, by jehadis beyond the long arm of the law in Karachi. The murderers still haven't been arrested. Omar is now in a Karachi jail, waiting for the US and Pakistan to decide his future. According to Pakistani officials, Washington has asked for his extradition in a 1994 case relating to the kidnapping and murder of American tourist called Bela Nuss in India and not in the Pearl case. In fact, Musharraf, replying to a question by this reporter a couple of days ago, said, "We will treat him in accordance with our laws. We want to see all the legal aspects of extradition. We haven't reached any conclusions yet." On his part, Omar has argued in court that he cannot be tried in the US for the Bela Nuss case because he is already being tried for the same in India. Today's The News newspaper quotes Omar as saying that would amount to, "double jeopardy.

 

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