By Amir Mir
LAHORE: In a sensational development, authorities have claimed busting a clandestine terror network set up by jailed killer of Daniel Pearl inside the Hyderabad Jail and the Sindh government has suspended senior police and jail officials after a large number of cell phones, SIMs and other equipment were recovered.
Highly-placed Interior Ministry sources confided to The News on Wednesday the jailed terrorist had also threatened Gen Pervez Musharraf on his personal cell phone in the second week of November and planned to get him eliminated by a suicide bomber.
The caller reportedly told the former president: “I am after you, get ready to die.” Subsequent investigations by the authorities revealed the threatening phone call was made by someone from the Hyderabad Central Jail. Being a suspect, Sheikh Omar was placed under observation before it transpired that he was the one who had threatened the former strongman.
The authorities came to know that a plot had been hatched by Sheikh Omar to eliminate the then-president with the connivance of some Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants, with whom he had long been in touch over the phone.
As Omar’s death cell was thoroughly searched, three mobile phones, six batteries, 18 SIMS of almost every cellular company and chargers were seized from his possession. Further scanning of the alleged terror mastermind’s telephone records revealed he had been making calls all over Pakistan to former Jihadi associates as well as relatives in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi and Peshawar.
Interestingly, however, his mobile phone records revealed besides having revived his contacts with the outer world, Omar had also been in touch with Attaur Rehman, alias Naeem Bukhari, a key Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operative arrested by the Karachi police on June 5, 2007 in connection with the January 2002 Daniel Pearl murder case.
When the barracks of Naeem Bukhari, being held in the Sukkur Central Jail, were searched, the authorities recovered one mobile phone and three SIMs he had been using to stay in touch with Omar and some other LeJ accomplices in Karachi and Rawalpindi.
During the ensuing interrogations, Naeem Bukhari was learnt to have revealed that the LeJ operatives had already been directed by Sheikh Omar to target Musharraf either in Rawalpindi or in Karachi, preferably by using a suicide car bomber.
The LeJ militants had thus been monitoring Musharraf’s movements to target him while travelling between his Army House residence in Rawalpindi and his Chak Shehzad farmhouse on the 1-A Park Road on the quiet suburbs of Islamabad or to blow up the bridge on Shara-e-Faisal during his next visit to Karachi at the precise moment when his convoy would reach there from the Quaid-e-Azam International Airport.
It was after the unearthing of the assassination plot that Musharraf decided to leave for London on Nov 22, 2008 for a short trip — for the first time since his resignation as president in August 2008. Although, he has already returned home, Musharraf is still occupying the Army House due to grave security concerns.
Following the recovery of mobile phones and SIMs from Sheikh Omar, the Sindh Home Department took serious action and suspended (on Dec 1, 2008) Hyderabad Central Jail Superintendent Abdul Majid Siddiqui, his deputy Gul Mohammad Sheikh and four other jail officials on charges of showing criminal negldigence.
According to the Sindh inspector general prisons, both had been suspended by the Home Department on complaints of corruption and maladministration. The IG prisons said there were complaints of serious nature against them, such as providing cell phones and other banned facilities to prisoners, corruption and maladministration. An inquiry officer has already been appointed to probe the charges.
The most astonishing aspect of the episode is that the scrutiny of Omar Sheikh’s mobile phone records proved he had been even calling Maj-Gen (retd) Amir Faisal Alavi, the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the elite Special Services Group (SSG) of the Pakistan Army. He was shot dead in Islamabad on Nov 19, 2008 by unidentified gunmen.
Although, the Interior Ministry officials are not ready to speak on the issue, a recent story filed by Carey Schofield of Sunday Times had quoted Maj-Gen Amir Faisal Alavi as having told her during an Islamabad meeting four days before his murder that he knew he would be killed by his own comrades, as he had threatened to expose the Pakistani generals who had been cutting deals with Taliban insurgents.
Sheikh Omar Saeed has not divulged any information so far as to why he had been calling Alavi. But Musharraf has stated in his book “In the Line of Fire” that Omar was originally recruited by the British intelligence agency MI-6 while studying at the London School of Economics.
Omar was sent to the Balkans by MI-6 to engage in Jihadi operations, according to Musharraf, who went on to opine: “At some point, he probably became a rogue or double agent. Sheikh Omar happens to be a British citizen of Pakistani descent, who had first served five years in prison in Delhi in the 90s in connection with the 1994 abduction of three British travellers. But he was released in the first week of 2000 along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar and eventually provided a safe passage to Pakistan by the Taliban regime, after India was forced to accept demands of the hijackers of Indian Airliner IC-814.
“Two years later, on Feb 12, 2002, Omar surrendered to Brigadier (retd) Ejaz Hussain Shah, his former handler in the ISI, after being accused of abducting Daniel Pearl. At an initial court appearance in April 2002, Omar had almost confessed to his crime by stating: “I don’t want to defend myself. I did this… Rightly or wrongly, I had my reasons. I think our country shouldn’t be catering to American needs.”
As a matter of fact, it is five-and-a-half years since an anti-terrorism court in Karachi sentenced him to death. Omar, a graduate from the London School of Economics, became a Jihadi for the high-profile Pearl murder.
It was on July 15, 2003 that Omar and his three accomplices were awarded life imprisonment by Justice Ali Ashraf Shah in a heavily fortified makeshift court, set up in a bunker underneath a prison inside the Hyderabad Jail. No journalist was allowed to attend the court proceedings and the venue had to be changed three times because of bombing threats and security concerns.
The trial judge was also changed thrice. Forensic scientists initially refused to attend the exhumation of the court for fear they would be killed. Police personnel who were known to confront all kinds of savage criminals behaved like lambs in front of the terrorist and police officers were intimidated by him in the court of law in front of the judge.
As soon as the July 15, 2003 verdict was announced, Omar, who had already been declared a dangerous prisoner and confined to an isolation death cell, reacted defiantly, saying that he would retaliate against the authorities for arranging the sentence. In a message read out by his lawyer outside the court room, Sheikh Omar said: “We shall see who will die first. Either I or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me.” Almost six months later, in December 2003, Gen Musharraf survived two separate assassinations attempts in Rawalpindi. The authorities suspect that Sheikh Omar had links with the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up to assassinate Musharraf and the attempts owed to the death penalty awarded to Omar.
As things stand, the anti-terrorist court’s verdict has not been implemented so far and Sheikh Omar continues to avoid being sent to the gallows due to repeated adjournments of his appeal against conviction, pending in the Sindh High Court for years now. Reports emanating from the Hyderabad Central Jail say the guards stationed outside Omar’s death cell are rotated almost daily because he has the ability to influence anyone he meets.
As a matter of fact, Omar had actually managed to prevail upon the first four police constables deployed outside his cell, with all of them growing beards within days after they were assigned to guard his ward. The jail authorities say if the guards outside his cell are not rotated every day, Omar is fully capable of bringing the entire jail staff round to his view. He is presently reading books on history, particularly on World War-I and II, the Cold War and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.