As India accuses Pakistani border forces of killing five soldiers at Poonch sector of the occupied valley, Pakistani security agencies have unearthed a network of India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in Lahore which was plotting to assassinate Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, founder of the banned jihadi outfits –Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jamaatud Daawa.
The plot was revealed during investigations into the gruesome killing of Khalid Bashir, the chief security officer of Hafiz Saeed.
New Delhi has long accused Saeed, the JuD chief, of fomenting terrorism in India. He is also a prime accused in the deadly gun-and-bomb attacks in Mumbai in 2008, resulting in a $10 million bounty on his head by the US government. However, senior Pakistani officials say that Saeed is helping in de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of former extremists and that official security is being provided to him because he could be targeted by militants who disapprove of Saeed’s cooperation with the government.
Intelligence sources told Pakistan Today that the plot to assassinate Saeed and his close aides was hatched in Dubai allegedly by a RAW agent identified only by one name – Vinod.
The sources said that RAW engaged two local jihadi activists through an unidentified Pakistani handler for the job.
“On May 15, 2013, Khalid Bashir, a 42-year-old father of seven, was abducted from Lahore by Zafar Qayyum and Bilal Ahmed Cheema, both of whom were enlisted by RAW during their jihadi operations in Afghanistan. Bashir’s body was later found from the Upper Chenab Canal in Sheikhupura on May 17. The body bore multiple torture marks and bullet wounds,” said the sources.
Revealing details gleaned from the two men during interrogation, the sources said that Qayyum and Cheema were assigned the task by a Pakistani handler who told the men that “Bashir was an Indian agent and was working against the interests of JuD”.
Bashir was associated with the JuD for over 25 years and was counted among Saeed’s close aides. His mysterious killing had shocked Saeed and other members of the banned militant outfit as he had thwarted several assassination attempts on his leader and was responsible for coordinating every movement of the JuD chief.
Bashir’s family had told police that the deceased had received a phone call on the night of May 14, and the caller had invited him for a dinner meeting the next evening. When Bashir did not return home after that meeting, his family approached the JuD leadership. Meanwhile, an unidentified caller informed the family that Bashir had been kidnapped.
An FIR No. 346/2013 was registered with Lahore’s Harbanspura Police Station under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) but later Section 302 of the PPC was added to the FIR when Bashir’s body was found from the canal.
LARGER SCHEME OF THINGS
Taking note of the sensitivity of the case, an intelligence agency obtained the call data records of the deceased which showed that the call he had received came from a SIM card which allegedly belonged to the RAW handler. Two other numbers traced from the SIM card record led to the arrests of Qayyum and Cheema.
Intelligence sources said that during the course of surveillance and call data records, Pakistani agents noted that Qayyum and Cheema were in frequent contact with each other, particularly after Bashir’s killing. It was also learnt that the two men were residents of Gujranwala and had been driven to Lahore for the job by their handler.
During interrogation, Qayyum and Cheema revealed that their handler, who used a fake name, had dropped them off near Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital on May 15, after setting a meeting point with Bashir.
“According to the arrested assassins, their handler told Bashir he wanted him to meet two jihadis and brought him to Jinnah Hospital from where they boarded his car. The handler offered intoxicated juice to Bashir who fell unconscious after only a few sips. Qayyum then shot at him with a pistol and the men sped away to Sheikhpura with the injured man,” said the sources.
According to the assassins, they did not know the identity of the deceased until they read news reports about his killing.
Inspector Syed Imtiaz, in-charge investigation of Harbanspura Police, told Pakistan Today that the two suspected killers had been given in their custody for further investigation. “Qayyum and Cheema have been shifted to jail for identification,” he said, refusing to go into details.
THE REAL TARGET
According to the intelligence sources, detailed investigation into this plot revealed that the Indian spy agency had spent Rs 5 to 6 million on Bashir’s killing, which they said was a test case for the ultimate trophy – Hafiz Saeed.
They said that the RAW handler had disappeared from the scene after Bashir’s killing and it was believed that he had escaped to Dubai soon after culmination of the operation.