A Meeting with a senior al-Qaeda leader identified as the doctor in the Gulf in 2006 is suspected to have pushed Indian Mujahideen operative Mohammed Ahmed Yasin Siddibappa alias Yasin Bhatkal firmly down the path of jihad. Investigators probing Yasin,who was arrested on August 28,believe that the doctor was in all probability Ilyas Kashmiri.
Now suspected to be dead,Kashmiri was a Pakistan-based al-Qaeda commander who was indicted by the FBI in 2009,along with Mumbai 26/11 accused David Headley,Tahawwur Rana and former Pakistan military official Syed Hashim Pasha,of a conspiracy to bomb places of public use in India.
Yasin has identified the al-Qaeda leader he met in Abu Dhabi,when he was a 23-year-old living in Dubai,as only the doctor. However,there is evidence from the trial in the US of Kashmiri and others,as well as a statement by a senior al-Qaeda leader in 2011 regarding the Pune German Bakery blast of February 13,2010,indicating that Kashmiri was called doctor and that he and the Indian Mujahideen group were working together.
An intelligence input about Yasin meeting a senior al-Qaeda operative in Abu Dhabi in 2006 has been in existence for a while. Though Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri,the current top al-Qaeda leader,is also nicknamed the doctor,the man Yasin met is believed to have been Kashmiri.
In the course of its case in a Northern Illinois district court against Headley,Rana,Kashmiri and Pasha in 2009,the FBI had produced recordings of conversations and e-mails,where Headley frequently referred to Kashmiri in code as doctor and Mr Doctor.
From my review of recorded communications between Individual A (Headley) and Abdur Rehman (Hashim Pasha) I believe that the use of the term Doctor is to refer to Kashmiri, a footnote provided by FBI special agent Lorenzo Benedict in the complaint against Pasha said.
In its indictment papers on the conspiracy to bomb places in India,the FBI further noted that Kashmiri was in regular contact with al-Qaeda and in particular with Mustafa Abu al Yazid,a.k.a. Sheik Said al Masri. Prior to his death in a 2010 drone attack,al-Masri was considered a financial controller and lower in command in the then al-Qaeda hierarchy to only Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.
In fact,an audio message by al-Masri released on jihadi sites after his death in May 2010 had praised the German Bakery attack. It said the attack was carried out by a soldier from the Soldiers of the Sacrifice Brigade,which is one of the brigades of Qaedat al-Jihad (al-Qaeda) in Kashmir,under the leadership of Commander Illyas Kashmiri. It added: Februarys India operation was against a Jewish locale in the west of the Indian capital in the area of the German bakeries a fact that the enemy tried to hide and close to 20 Jews were killed in the operation.
Links between the IM and al-Qaeda are believed to have been forged by the ex-Pakistan military official Hashim Pasha,who is on Indias most wanted list for IM-related bombings. Pasha has links to both the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the ISI.
In the course of his interrogation by the NIA in June 2010 in the US,Headley had alluded to Syed Abdur Rehman alias Pasha being constantly in touch with Kashmiri and running a terror network parallel to the Lashkars,involving Indian nationals,to carry out terror attacks in India. The 26/11 attacks in which Headley is an accused were carried out by the Lashkar.
According to the NIAs own summary of Headleys interrogation,Pasha was running a Karachi set-up of his own to launch operations into India by using militants of Indian origin. Abdur Rehman is directly in touch with the top brass of al-Qaeda including Illyas Kashmiri who is now (in 2010) number three in the al-Qaeda heirarchy in Pakistan. Pasha once told Headley that his set-up has been given the name Jund-ul-Fida by Osama bin Laden himself, said the NIA report.