May 30, 2011

U.S. not to push Pakistan to extradite indicted 26/11 suspects

Praveen Swami

Fugitive Lashkar, ISI men could figure on FBI's most-wanted list

CHICAGO: Fearing a further breakdown of its increasingly fraught relationship with Pakistan, the U.S. does not intend to press Pakistan for the extradition of suspects sought by federal prosecutors for their role in the November 2008, attack on Mumbai, government sources have told The Hindu.

Even though Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, demanded greater counter-terrorism action against al-Qaeda during her just-concluded visit to Pakistan, the sources said she did not push for action against several Pakistani nationals indicted by a federal grand jury for their role in the Lashkar-e-Taiba attack, which left 164 dead, including six Americans.

“The United States has been putting intense diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to do more on Mumbai,” one Indian intelligence official said, “but seems to think any public action will undermine its priority, which is action against jihadist groups focussed on the West, like al-Qaeda.”

The suspects indicted by prosecutors in Chicago include Major Abdul Rehman Hashim Syed, a retired Pakistan Army officer who is alleged to have liaised between the Pakistani-American jihadist David Headley and al-Qaeda linked Harkat ul-Jihad-e-Islami commander Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri in a plot to stage attacks on the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten.

Pakistan's military had announced that it had arrested Major Syed in 2009, but no charges were brought. It is unclear if he is still in custody. Major-General Athar Abbas, the Pakistan Army's spokesperson, told The Hindu last year that the U.S. had made no formal request to question Mr. Rehman — and sources confirmed an extradition request has still not been moved.

Mazhar Iqbal, a computer expert who facilitated the Lashkar-e-Taiba communications cell which guided the assault team during its attack on Mumbai, was already being tried in Lahore when he was indicted in the U.S. It is unclear if the U.S. will press for his extradition should, as many experts believe, he be acquitted in Pakistan.

Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency has not named several others indicted by the U.S. for their role in the Mumbai attack — among them, a serving Inter Services Intelligence officer who Mr. Headley has said helped finance and organise the operation; the Lashkar's head of operations Sajid Mir; its military commander Muzammil Butt; and overall leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed.

Like India, the U.S. does not permit conviction of suspects unless they are present at the commencement of their trial — which means the suspects still in Pakistan must be produced before a court here before legal proceedings can begin.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is, however, expected to update its list of most wanted terrorists in the wake of the indictments to include some wanted Mumbai conspirators — a gesture which could mount pressure on Pakistan to take action against key suspects.

None of those charged with a role in the Mumbai attacks so far figure on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of most wanted terrorists. Indeed, there are no figures linked to Pakistan and India on the list, although the U.S. has proscribed key jihadist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and imposed sanctions against organised crime lord Dawood Ibrahim.

In contrast, the FBI is offering up to $25 million for information leading directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's long-standing confidant and successor. Muhammad Ibrahim al-Makkawi, al-Qaeda's new operations commander, carries a reward of $5 million.

The reason for the omission of Pakistani jihadists is that none were previously indicted by a federal grand jury — a unique U.S. legal institution that decides whether individuals should be indicted, or charged, with crimes and also wield investigative powers.

However, the death of six U.S. citizens in Mumbai — Ben Zion Chroman, Gavriel Holtzberg, Sandeep Jeswani, Alan Scherr, his daughter Naomi Scherr, and Aryeh Leibish Teitelbaum — allowed for the U.S. to take action in the case.

Experts warn, though, even the resources of the U.S. do not always lead to the location and apprehension of suspects figuring on the FBI's most-wanted list.

Bloomington, Indiana-born Abdul Rahman Yasin, who is alleged to have participated in the February 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, which left six dead has long been on the list, but is yet to be located.

Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim, who is sought by the FBI for his alleged role in the September 5, 1986, hijacking of Pan American World Airways Flight 73 at Karachi, in which 20 passengers and crew were killed, is also yet to be found.

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