An al-Qaeda operative from Hyderabad, who has been convicted in the United States for financing activities of the slain Yemeni preacher and al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, has been deported to India.
Mohammed Ibrahim Zubair, 41, a resident of Toledo in Ohio, US, was deported to India on a special flight that landed in Amritsar on May 19. He was escorted by Indian agents.
Zubair is “Sharjah born”, but is an “Indian national”, with his parents tracing their roots to Hyderabad, a top Punjab Police officer said. He was among 167 deportees by arrived in Amritsar from the US, the officer said.
Sources in New Delhi said Zubair was interrogated by central intelligence agencies about his links with al-Qaeda and his networks across the world and in India, if any. He has now been sent to 14 days’ quarantine in Amritsar as the agencies decide on their next step.
“He has not been booked in any case here. We are still exploring if he can be booked at all. There is no case against him. He has already served the sentence for the offence for which he was convicted in the US. Our main objective is to see how much information he has about al-Qaeda networks in India,” a security establishment officer said.
In July 2015, Zubair was arrested by US authorities for helping send around $22,000 in 2009 to al-Awlaki in Yemen. The money was allegedly carried by his brother Farooq Mohammed, who was then based in the United Arab Emirates. Farooq is currently serving a 29-year sentence in the US for both terror links and for conspiring to kill the judge who was hearing his case. Al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike ordered by President Barack Obama in Yemen in September 2011.
In April 2018, Zubair pleaded guilty to charges of concealing financial aid to a terrorist organisation and was sentenced to 60 months in prison. The court recently ordered his deportation to India.
Punjab Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta said that during his questioning by the Counter Intelligence wing of the state police, Zubair had revealed that he was radicalised after he started following the preachings of al-Awlaki, who was calling for a jihad against the US. “The FBI detained Zubair on November 5, 2015… He was sentenced to 60 months jail in April 2018 but was supposed to spend 30 months only taking into account the 30 months he had already spent in detention,” Gupta said.
Punjab ADGP (Internal Security) R N Dhoke said, “He is not wanted by us; he has no linkages in Punjab.”
According to central agency sources, Zubair comes from a well-to-do family which migrated to Sharjah and then to the US while he was still a child. Both he and his brother graduated from the University of Illinois as engineers.
“They were engaged in well paying jobs, but got sucked into the whirlpool of radicalisation and terrorism that swept the western landscape post the 9/11 attacks. They had been influenced by videos of al-Awlaki and even [the Malaysia-based wanted Indian televangelist] Zakir Naik lately. In fact his brother’s attempt to meet al-Awlaki in Yemen had failed,” an officer said.
After graduating, Zubair moved to Toldeo and married an American citizen in 2006, following which he became a permanent resident of the US, sources said. Before that he lived in Texas with his parents.
“While their father is dead now, the two brothers had bought a property in Hyderabad and sent back their mother to India a few years ago,” the officer said.
According to an order of the US District Court for the Northern district of Ohio, Zubair along with his brother and two others “did knowingly and intentionally provide material support and resources… including currency and monetary instruments, knowing and intending that they were to be used in preparation for, and in carrying out, violations” of US laws.
According to the order, Zubair along with others “would corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate, and conceal records, documents… including email communications stored on accounts… with the intent to impair the integrity and availability of these records, documents… for use in an official proceeding; and would corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding”.
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