BY: Sumir Kaul
Amid mounting pressure from India, Pakistan is understood to have quietly withdrawn an official from its High Commission in Colombo following the allegation that he was involved in a conspiracy to target the US and Israel consulates in south India at ISI’s behest.
Counselor (Visa) Amir Zubair Siddiqui was withdrawn even before NIA’s request under a Mutual Assistance Legal Treaty (MLAT) reached Colombo, officials here said.
Pakistan’s official position is that Siddiqui had finished his tenure in Sri Lanka and hence returned to Islamabad.
The press attache at the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi, Muhammad Daud Ehtisham, refused to comment on the matter despite repeated calls and SMSes.
However, a Sri Lankan magazine quoted Ehtisham as saying “…This officer (Siddiqui) is a very much respected officer and he completed his tenure in Sri Lanka without any incident.”
India has been working with Sri Lankan authorities on the issue ever since Malaysia revealed a conspiracy allegedly hatched by some Lankan nationals to conduct a reconnaissance of the US Consulate in Chennai and Israeli Consulate in Bangalore to carry out a terror strike.
NIA took over the case last month after it was registered by the Tamil Nadu police. A Sri Lankan national, Sakir Hussain, who had allegedly entered India to conduct a recce of the two consulates was arrested after a tip-off from the Intelligence Bureau.
Hussain had reportedly taken the name of Siddiqui as his handler and also said he had been chosen as he was involved in human trafficking, making of forged passports and smuggling of counterfeit Indian currency.
Investigators reportedly recovered pictures of US and Israeli consulates from Hussain, showing various gates and roads leading to the two premises. Hussain had allegedly mailed these snaps to his handlers in Pakistan and its High Commission in Colombo.
Siddiqui’s name had first cropped up in 2012-13 when security agencies picked up one Tameem Ansari, a frequent flier from Trichy to Colombo. Ansari had been arrested in 2012 after six months of surveillance.
Sri Lanka was informed of Ansari’s arrest. Under the MLAT, signed in 2010, India and Sri Lanka are required to provide assistance to each other in investigations, including in locating suspect persons and objects, and facilitating appearance of witnesses.
Ansari was a trader who sent, among other things, potatoes and onions to Sri Lanka. After reverses in business, Ansari is believed to have come in touch with Haji, a Tamil-speaking Colombo resident, who allegedly introduced him to Siddiqui in the Pakistan mission in Colombo, and his second in command, Shaji.
Siddiqui reportedly brainwashed him, persuading him to take videos of the Nagapattinam port in Tamil Nadu, collect details of its topography and other dimensions besides ships that berthed there, and to pass on information about Mallipattinam, a traditional landing point.
According to sources, a senior NIA official visited Malaysia recently to collect information about another Lankan national, Mohammed Hussain Mohammed Sulaiman, who was arrested by the Malaysian Special Police in May. India had secured an Interpol Red Corner Notice against Sulaiman.
The initial interrogation report of Sulaiman, that has been shared with India, has provided further details of the alleged conspiracy. He has reportedly confessed to having received instructions to assist two men in the planned attacks on the consulates.
The plan needed Sakir Hussain to conduct a recce of the consulates, while Sulaiman was to facilitate entry of two suicide attackers into India from Maldives, sources said.
Sulaiman, 47, is wanted in India on other charges too, including possession of fake currency notes and raising funds for terrorist acts. He is deemed crucial to the probe.