Indian intelligence and National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials have told The Indian Express that Saudi Arabia is yet to commit to deporting Abu Sufiyan alias Asadullah Khan, a Hyderabad resident alleged to have been at the centre of a Lashkar-e-Toiba linked cell plotting terror strikes in Karnataka. News reports on Monday quoted officials as saying Sufiyan was expected to be deported within weeks.
The case has become a key test of India-Saudi Arabia counter-terrorism cooperation. A senior Indian diplomat said Saudi Arabia has repeatedly promised to deport Sufiyan since he was held in February, only to resile citing procedural problems.
Saudi Arabia deported alleged 26/11 perpetrator Syed Zabiuddin Ansari to India in March 2013. However, Indian intelligence services have complained Saudi Arabia has since been reluctant to act against terror suspects.
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.
In an ongoing trial, the NIA claimed the LeT’s Saudi cell provided funding and weapons to Hubli residents Shoaib Mirza, Abdul Jamadar, Zafar Iqbal Sholapur and Syed Tanzeem Ahmad, who are being tried for their alleged role in a plot to kill individuals the chargesheet describes as “prominent right-wing politicians”.
Khan, government sources said, was located by the IB in Riyadh last year, where he worked as a driver. The IB passed on a request for his arrest with details of his address, an official said. He added that though similar information had been provided for at least two other alleged conspirators, Saudi Arabia’s security service said it was unable to locate them.
Locked in an intense geopolitical struggle with Iran, Indian diplomats say, Saudi Arabia has become hesitant to jeopordise its relationship with Pakistan by cracking down on the LeT.
A senior official involved with the efforts to get Sufiyan deported said: “Though Saudi Arabia does not wish to be seen as sheltering terrorists, it is also unwilling to annoy Pakistan by handing over suspects with first-hand knowledge of the Inter-Services Intelligence’s links with terrorist groups targeting us”.
The US, key to securing Ansari’s arrest, has also seen its influence diminish in the Kingdom, as a result of its pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran.
Saudi Arabia’s new king, Salman bin Abdulaziz, is also known to have been ideologically sympathetic to jihadists in the past. Zacarias Moussaoui, a top al-Qaeda operative serving time in a US prison, had claimed in his testimony that he held meetings “with Salman, then the crown prince, and other Saudi royals while delivering them letters from Osama bin Laden”.
Former US intelligence officer Bruce Riedel has said King Salman was also a key figure in funneling funds to jihadists in Afghanistan and Bosnia.
However, India’s efforts to secure the deportation of Zainul Abideen, who was nabbed from Dubai 20 days ago , could yield results within days, said officials. Abideen allegedly supplied explosives to Indian Mujahideen commander Yasin Ahmad Siddibapa.
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