Calls from Pathankot: Digital trail leads to Pakistan

The Indian Express used publicly available online resources to verify the phone numbers, locate Facebook accounts they were linked to, and identify their service providers.

Written by Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Updated: January 13, 2016 11:25 am
pathankot attack, evidence of pathankot, pathankot investigation Pathankot attack: The Facebook profile of Saad Mughal, whose number was among the five dialled by the terrorists.

Five phone numbers called by the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase last week track back to individuals whose Facebook pages identify them as residents of Pakistan. In one case, an individual had posted images of armed Jaish-e-Muhammad operatives; another number was one used in advertisements for its charitable front, al-Rahmat.

The Indian Express used publicly available online resources to verify the phone numbers, locate Facebook accounts they were linked to, and identify their service providers.

Watch video Pathankot Attack: The Rise Of Jaish-e-Muhammad

Indian investigators recorded only three snippets of conversation, one by a terrorist using the single name ‘Nasir’, who spoke for several minutes with his mother and brother. The other Pakistan numbers were found by investigators as they studied the two carjacking victims’ mobile phone records.

The five numbers were called by the attackers using phones taken from slain taxi driver Ikagar Singh, and jeweller Rajesh Verma, friend of Punjab SP Salwinder Singh.

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Earlier this week, Pakistani media reported that investigators in that country had said the numbers were “not registered”, suggesting that they did not exist. All Pakistani mobile phone SIM cards are sold only after biometric data is provided by their users.

The numbers were conveyed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, highly-placed government sources said, to his counterpart Lt General (retd) Nasir Janjua earlier this week.

The first among the five numbers is identified by Truecaller as belonging to an individual called “Saad” — Truecaller harvests data from users’ address books, and uses them to build a database of information that helps reliably identify calls from unknown numbers.

The number, operated by cellphone company Mobilink, was also linked to a Facebook account operated by Saad Mughal, a resident of Sahiwal in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Mughal’s Facebook page identifies him as a one-time student of the Government High School in Arifawala. He describes himself as working at “Islam”.

Incidentally, Mughal’s Facebook profile picture is of the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, an internationally-proscribed terrorist wanted, among other things, for the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in 1999, and the 2001 attack on Parliament House in New Delhi.

Mughal’s Facebook page also contains several photographs of armed individuals who appear to be jihadists operating in Kashmir, safehouses equipped with weapons, and propaganda posters vowing war on India.

The second number is identified by Truecaller as belonging to an individual using the name “Kashif”, and is operated by Telenor. The same number was used by an individual named Kashif Jan to operate a Facebook page. The page identifies Kashif as a former student of the University of Karachi, and states he was born on January 30, 1982.

Kashif’s Facebook page lists Mughal as one of his contacts and also contains propaganda material for Islamist causes, notably a campaign to free Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer.

Watch Video: How Wires Got Crossed in Delhi

Mughal is also connected, though Facebook, to a third individual called by the terrorists. The number, provided by Warid Telecom, is identified by Truecaller as belonging to “Molana”, a possible typographical error for Maulana.

The number links to a Facebook page operated by Usman Sarwar, who claims to be a former student of the Lahore University of Management Sciences and Lawrence College, Murree, and says he works full time at “Dawah (proselytisation) calling to Allah”.

Sarwar, incidentally, is linked to both Kashif and Saad Mughal through several common friends-and also hails lives in Sahiwal.

In one case, there is an explicit connection with the Jaish. Truecaller identifies the user as “Jashe Islam”, a possible misspelling of Jaish-e-Islam, or army of Islam. The number appears in advertisements that have appeared several times in Jaish-related publications, as well as the website banateayesha.com, asking for contributions for the jihadist group’s charitable front, al-Rahmat.

Ever since 2010, al-Rahmat has solicited contributions to an account at the National Bank’s Satellite Town branch in Bahawalpur, held by a Ghulam Murtaza. In advertisements, the trust — sanctioned by the United States, United Arab Emirates and other countries — has said it provides funds for jihad veterans and religious causes.

The fifth number identified in Truecaller records as “The Truth is Out There”. Each of the five numbers now appears to be switched off, or out of service.