The arrest of top Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist Abdul Karim Tunda was an elaborate intelligence operation that started in the United Arab Emirates,where he had been spotted six months ago,and ended on the India-Nepal border.
In fact,Tundas arrest was only possible because of the UAEs help,sources said. He was allegedly visiting mosques and madrasas in the UAE,trying to motivate Indian Muslim youth from lower income backgrounds to join jihadi groups.
While Indian intelligence did not have his exact whereabouts,sources said it was the UAE which traced and mounted surveillance on him. India,incidentally,had raised Tundas case with Abu Dhabi on earlier occasions but had failed to make any headway.
The UAEs biggest complication was always Pakistan because most of Indias wanted terrorists,including Tunda,had turned Pakistani citizens with new identities,valid passports and a national identification number. So even if the UAE were to honour the Interpol alert and pick up Tunda,Pakistani authorities would immediately challenge the detention on the ground that the person was their citizen and had been wrongly detained.
This happened in the case of Syed Zabiuddin Ansari and India had to eventually send DNA samples to prove his identity. Tundas case was no different as he went by the name Abdul Quddus and held a legitimate Pakistani passport. Pakistan would have immediately challenged his detention and the UAE wanted to avoid this.
Tunda was watched for about six months but never picked up. It was clear,meanwhile,to Indian intelligence officials from conversations with their counterparts in Dubai that the UAE would not act on Tunda on their soil but would do enough to not lose track of him.
Tunda was a frequent flyer. His new role as a talent-spotter for Pakistan-based terror groups meant he moved across the Middle-East,especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia,as well as to Bangladesh. In fact,he was valued for his contacts in Bangladesh,where he had spent considerable time after escaping from India and had even married there.
Nepal was his transit point to go to Bangladesh. UAE intelligence tipped off Indian authorities that Tunda was going to leave their country for Nepal on his way to Bangladesh. And that was enough for Indian intelligence. It was decided that they would not take up the matter with senior officials in Nepal but rely on cooperation at the functional level through established local contacts.
The moment Tunda reached Nepal,he was tracked and caught. Although Nepal was a transit point,sources said Tunda had begun visiting madrasas in the Terai region and for this reason his transit stops had become longer than before. Delhi Police was involved in the intelligence operation after the tip-off came from the UAE and a team was sent to seize Tunda.
At one time between 2003 and 2005,the UAE was quite positive about cooperating with India on repatriating wanted terrorists. Many lesser known yet important terror suspects and underworld criminals were sent back during those years.
However,this slowed down after some of the UAEs major investments hit a wall in India. In particular,the UAE was quite upset with Indian intelligence agencies for blocking the investment plans of Dubai Ports Authority on security grounds.
Often,sources said,intelligence cooperation with Gulf countries gets linked with progress on the economic side. The governments decision to clear the Jet-Etihad deal,for instance,has had a positive impact on the intelligence cooperation,they said.