March 2002 News

Masood Azhar's shadow, all the way from Kashmir to Mogadishu

23 March 2002
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Much of the dirt on the links between Somalian terrorists and Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar lies in his interrogation report. RITU SARIN has a look IT'S been around for years, lying buried in the Kashmir police files for years. The interrogation report has been pulled out only now, thanks to the interest shown by US authorities in Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar's Somalian connection. US agencies have long suspected an al Qaeda link in the 1993 killings of 18 soldiers in Somalian capital Mogadishu as well as in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 12 Americans were among 224 people killed. And it is the confessions by Azhar to the Kashmir police that reveal that Pakistan-based operatives, including him and Maulana Fazal-ul- Rehman played a role in the Somalian campaign. This may now help the US build a case against him for extradition. Azhar, who was arrested in Srinagar in 1994 and is now under house arrest in Pakistan, tops the list of 20 men wanted by India. And while the Pakistan government has been accusing India of failing to convict him during his seven-year confinement in Indian prisons, the fact is that among other evidence, links between al Qaeda and the Somalia group, the Ittihad-e-Islami, was easily extracted by Indian interrogators. The portions of Azhar's interrogation dealing with the Somalia operation reveal that the 400-odd UAE nationals and other militants arrested in Peshawar in 1993 and subsequently expelled under international pressure made their way to Somalia via Sudan. He admitted, 'They entered Somalia to join the ranks of the Ittihad-e-Islami and continued to correspond with us from Somalia... They also revealed that the Pakistani (army) troops under the UN forces have been placed at central spots of trouble at vulnerable positions guarding the life and property of Americans.' The US prosecutors hearing the trials of the accused in the embassy bombings have argued that it was Ittihad-e-Islami operatives who trained the Somalis to kill US soldiers in 1993, and that at least one of the accused was a member of the group. Azhar at that point was playing the role of an influential mediator, a fund raiser and a travelling spokesperson for the Harkat-ul-Ansar. In 1993, he visited Nairobi as well as made three visits to Somalia and played a key role in al Qaeda operations there. Azhar's confessional exposes the strong anti-US bias among the Pakistani troops. It reads, 'As such the Pakistanis, who till now were champions of Islam, found the tide turned against them and found themselves unwelcomed. I published these letters (which the militants were writing to him from Somalia) in original along with their translation in Sadah-e-Mujahid. I visited Nairobi where five Ittihad-e-Islami and two UAE militants also visited and asked me to build pressure on Pakistani Government to seek withdrawal of Pak troops from Somalia... After our return a number of news stories condemning the role of Pak troops in Somalia under UN appeared. I also brought out a booklet on the issue and got printed 5,000 copies which were distributed.' Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that Azhar was also suspected to have helped in getting mercenaries from Yemen to Somalia with the help of Yemeni militant leader Tariq Nasr Fadhli. Tariq is said to have fought under Osama's command in Afghanistan's guerrilla war against Russia. Tariq then led a guerrilla war against the Marxist government of South Yemen, which collapsed in 1994 and once again became part of Yemen. Later, Yemeni authorities identified Tariq as a suspect in the hotel bombings in Yemen that targetted US marines headed for Somalia. The newspaper concluded that Azhar had admitted to aiding the 1993 street war against US forces in Somalia and 'may be the long suspected link between Osama bin Laden and the killing of 18 US soldiers in Mogadishu.'

 

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