Top jihad commander Muhammad Abdul Aziz, a Hyderabad resident sought by Indian intelligence and police for over a decade, has been deported home from Saudi Arabia to face trial.
Also known by the alias “Giddah”, Aziz was flown to Lucknow Tuesday. He was produced before a local court which granted transit remand to the Telangana police who took him away.
Believed to be a veteran of jihadist campaigns in Bosnia and Chechnya, and sought by police for his alleged role in planning attacks on temples in Andhra Pradesh a decade ago, 1964-born Aziz is the most important terror suspect to be handed over by the Kingdom since 2013, when 26/11 perpetrator Zabiuddin Ansari was handed over.
Uttar Pradesh Inspector General (Law and Order) Bhagwan Swaroop said Hyderabad police had arrested Abdul Aziz in 2001 on the charge of possessing a fake passport. He later jumped bail and disappeared.
“Aziz was the godfather of the jihadist movement in Hyderabad,” a senior Telangana police officer said. “His arrest will signal to would-be terrorists that we will find them, no matter how long it takes.”
Educated at the Anwar-ul-Uloom College in Mallepally, Aziz, the son of retired police constable Mehtab Ali, discontinued his studies in 1984 and apprenticed with an electrician. He soon fell in with the street-gang of Mohammad Fasiuddin, from which several jihadists would emerge. The gang, police officers said, not only ran extortion and gambling rackets across Hyderabad, but also provided protection during bouts of communal violence in the city.
Later, Aziz is believed to have participated in an anti-prostitution campaign targeting the Mehboob ki Mandi red light district, and joined the Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat, a vigilante group.
Late in 1989, Aziz got a job in Saudi Arabia, where he worked as electrician with a construction major. He returned home on a vacation in December 1992, days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Embittered, he joined a Saudi Arabia-based charitable organisation whose chapters in Indonesia and the Philippines were sanctioned for sponsoring terrorism by the United Nations.
In 1994, he volunteered to fight against the Serbian forces that were conducting large-scale ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Aziz trained at Zentica along with jihadists from Europe, West Asia and Africa before being despatched to fight on the frontlines.
Indian intelligence officials said he fought with Bosnia’s 3 Corps, a unit formed by amalgamating irregular civilian units and international volunteers with territorial defence units.
In an August 1994 interview to the Pakistani jihadist magazine, al-Sirat al-Mustaqeem, Aziz said his decision to fight in Bosnia had been laid by the speeches of Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian jihadist who was Osama bin Laden’s ideological mentor and co-founder of the Lashkar’s parent organisation, Markaz Dawat wal’Irshad.
In March 1996, Aziz travelled to Moscow and on to Shatoy, near Grozny in Chechnya. He was tasked, Indian intelligence officials said, with providing logistics support to fighters operating under the command of the Saudi Arabia-born jihadist Samir Saleh Abdullah al-Suwailem. Fighting alongside Basayev’s jihadist forces, al-Suwailem commanded the guerrilla units which sparked the second Chechen war.
The next month, al-Suwailem’s forces carried out a famous ambush, massacring troops of Russia’s 245 Motor Rifle Regiment, killing 53 soldiers. Al-Suwailem was eventually assassinated by Russia’s Federal Security Service in 2002.
Later that year, Aziz returned home in the hope of setting up a jihadist unit at home. He allegedly contacted Mohammad Ishitaq, a Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba intelligence operative stationed in Hyderabad, hoping to set up a local jihadist unit. He also met with Lashkar commander Mohammad Azam Ghauri, one of the co-founders of the outfit’s Indian networks.
However, police records state, the plan did not yield fruit; Junaid and Ghauri were both killed in shootouts with the Andhra Pradesh police two years later.
In 1999, Aziz tried to return to Chechnya, travelling through Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. He was, however, deported on his arrival, and arrested on his return to New Delhi.
The next year, though, Aziz received bail after police failed to file a charge-sheet against him within the mandatory 90 days. He was arrested again in January, 2001, this time allegedly in possession of a fake passport, as well as ammunition and a pistol. He again received bail, and attended court proceedings until August, 2003, when he jumped bail.
Police filed charges against Aziz against in August, 2004, for his alleged role in funding a plot to bomb Hindu shrines and a Ganesh festival that year.
The Research and Analysis Wing first located Aziz in Saudi Arabia in 2008, but it took another five years to secure his arrest. Saudi Arabia had declined to formally confirm his arrest, asking instead for evidence of the terror suspect’s Indian nationality.
Aziz’s deportation has raised hopes that the Kingdom may also hand over Asadullah Khan, another Hyderabad resident alleged to be involved in a Lashkar-e-Taiba linked cell plotting terror strikes in Karnataka. Khan, government sources said, was located by the Intelligence Bureau in Riyadh two years ago, where he worked as a driver.
In a chargesheet filed in May 2013, the NIA had named Sufiyan as one of seven Indian LeT operatives who held meetings in Riyadh and Dammam to plan assassinations and attacks in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Hubli and Nanded.
— With Manish Sahu in Lucknow