| An army officer points towards the Line of Control as APJ Abdul Kalam and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed look on. (Reuters)
Washington, June 28: The windfall was expected, but not quite so soon.
Deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani’s intense meetings here this month with US attorney-general John Ashcroft and homeland security secretary Tom Ridge produced dramatic results yesterday when 11 men were charged with undergoing terrorist training at camps operated by the Lashkar-e-Toiba in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
This is the first significant crackdown by US authorities on Kashmir-related terrorism and is widely believed to be the result of detailed briefings by Advani’s aides, intelligence bureau director K.P. Singh and home secretary . Gopalaswami to US homeland security officials during the visit.
Eight of the 11 men are in US custody. Six of them were arrested yesterday. Three others are said to be in Saudi Arabia, where FBI officials are working with authorities in Riyadh to locate them.
Most of those arrested are either Pakistani citizens or Pakistanis who have accepted US citizenship. Two of the three men sought from Saudi Arabia are also US citizens of Pakistani origin.
All the 11 men have been charged with attempting to stage a military attack against India, a nation friendly to the US, conspiracy and firearms violations.
Their indictment, unsealed in court yesterday, alleged that the men used war-like “paintball” games to train in military tactics in Virginia and practised shooting in the Washington capital area and in nearby Pennsylvania.
“The indictment also alleges that some of the defendants fired weapons at Indian positions in Kashmir,” according to a statement by the US justice department.
State attorney Paul McNulty said the indictment was “a stark reminder that terrorist organisations of various allegiances are active in the US. And these groups exploit America’s freedom as a weapon to recruit and position themselves on our shores”.
The US state department’s latest report on the “Patterns of Global Terrorism” lists several Lashkar attacks against India and says senior al Qaida leader Abu Zubaydah was captured from a Lashkar safe house in Faisalabad in Pakistan. Lashkar has been on the US state department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations since October 2001.
The ringleader in yesterday’s case is Mohammed Aatique, 31, a Pakistani national who worked for high-tech companies and lived in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
In 1996, he came to study in the US, where his master’s degree thesis was on how the telecommunication industry could harness technology to trace the location of emergency calls from mobile phones.
According to yesterday’s indictment, Aatique was recruited for jihad in mid-2001. He travelled to Virginia from Pennsylvania, meeting other recruits, whom he accompanied to a camp in Muzaffarabad in PoK.
Before going to PoK, all the 11 accused are said to have attended lectures on hardline Islam at the Centre for Islamic Information and Education near here. They were trained in military tactics in the US by the three accused fugitives, now in Saudi Arabia, who once belonged to the US military.
A week after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a meeting was held with other conspirators in Aatique’s house, where he lived with his wife and two children. The next day, the Pakistani ringleader took a flight from New York to Karachi and onward to Muzaffarabad.
Aatique’s minder in the terrorist network, Randall Todd Royer, was also arrested yesterday near here. Royer, 30, is a convert to Islam and had fought in Bosnia. He later became a worldwide recruiter for Lashkar.