September 20, 2020
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Dubai Doesn't Deliver, Yet Again

What accounts for first the arrest and then the subsequent release of high profile organised criminals linked with international terrorism by authorities in Dubai?

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Dubai Doesn't Deliver, Yet Again
"How easy it was for Al-Qaida's bankers to have five hundred thousand dollars wired from a bank in Dubai for anonymous use in automatic teller machines in Florida and Maine. How difficult it has been, even with the backing of United Nations resolutions and 150 nations, to find out who raised or sent those dollars… illegal money doesn't just feed other security threats - it also causes them."
- Lord Robertson,
Secretary General, NATO,
April 17, 2002.


In the second such incident since December last, on February 3, 2003, Dubai arrested and subsequently released a number of high profile organised criminals linked with international terrorism, despite Interpol red corner notices against many of these, and despite the fact that India had again handed over a list containing the details of some of these criminals to the United Arab Emirate (UAE) authorities as recently as on January 28, 2003.

Initial reports suggested that 26 members of the notorious Dawood Ibrahim gang, widely known as the 'D-Company', including two of the gangleader's brothers - Noora (Noorul Haque) and Mustaqim - had been taken into custody in Dubai. Both Noora and Mustaqim - along with Mohammed Dossa, another of the arrested gangsters - are accused in the 1993 Bombay Blasts case involving a series of explosions in commercial centres that killed 257 persons, and injured another 713, and are believed by Indian authorities to be part of the network that provides operational support to terrorists in close coordination with Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Both Noora and Mustaqim are permanent residents of Dubai, with substantial business interests in this City State. Subsequent reports indicated that the number of gangsters arrested by Dubai authorities was as high as 110. Despite the arrests and the clear documentation on this count, Indian authorities had little expectation that the culprits would be extradited to face Indian justice. For one thing, the Indian Ambassador to Dubai was stonewalled by authorities in his efforts to secure official confirmation and details of the arrests; for another, the same drama had been played out with another of Dawood Ibarhim's brothers, Anees Kaksar Ibrahim, in early December 2002 [Out In The Open]

In the latest incident, reports indicated that all the persons arrested were subsequently released with instructions to 'leave the country immediately'. On the surface, it was unclear why Dubai chose to take sudden action against these gang-lords and their cadres who have had settled operations in the country for well over a decade. Sources indicate that the motive was primarily to prevent a bloodbath on Dubai soil, rather than any larger concern regarding the criminal and terrorist activities engaged in by these groups in other countries.

Earlier, on January 19, 2003, one of Dawood Ibrahim's lieutenants, Sharad Shetty, was killed at the India Club in the city in what is believed to have been a revenge killing ordered by Dawood's former associate and - since the Bombay Blasts - current underworld rival, Chotta Rajan, for an unsuccessful attempt on Rajan's life in Bangkok in September 2000. The killing may also have been a bid to take over the lucrative betting cartel, which Shetty ran on Dawood's behalf, ahead of the Cricket World Cup Series. Shetty had been settled in Dubai since 1986, and had spawned a huge financial empire in the city despite a range of criminal charges pending in India, and a red corner Interpol notice relating to the murder of a Mumbai hotelier in June 1995.

The present spate of arrests is believed to have been initiated when a large number of 'D-Company' men converged on Dubai in what was thought to be a prelude to a gang war to eliminate Chotta Rajan's network in the city. Dubai authorities, concerned with keeping their own turf clean - particularly on the eve of the annual 'Dubai shopping festival' - simply bundled up all the suspects, gave them a warning against such violence within their jurisdiction, and asked them to leave the country - probably for their safe havens in Pakistan - for a 'cooling off' period.

Indian authorities have failed to get any official version on these events - including identities, points of origin and eventual destinations - of the criminals arrested and released by Dubai, despite requests for information by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and diplomatic channels.

Dubai's conduct in this and other cases raises critical questions about the role of this tiny City State in the evolving international network of organised criminals and Islamist extremist terrorists. One of the largest and most unregulated financial centres in the world, with huge turnovers in undocumented movements of gemstones - including those originating in the world's worst conflict areas -, gold and cash, and located at the strategic crossroads of the Gulf, South Asia and Africa, Dubai has long been a financial hub for organised criminal and Islamist extremist groups, as well as a primary transit point for the shipping of contraband.

The Dawood Ibrahim gang controls much of this contraband movement from and to South Asia, as well as, crucially, a large chunk of the illegal hawala transactions in the region. It is this latter element that constitutes the gravest threat within the context of contemporary international terrorism: hawala is the future of terrorist financing, as various systems of transfer through 'regular' banking and conventional money laundering channels all leave behind paper trails that are vulnerable to eventual discovery. A paperless transaction, the traditional South Asian hawala system leaves behind no evidence once the monies are delivered to the recipient.

There is significant evidence of massive flows of terrorist finance from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and into Dubai after the US campaign against the Al Qaeda - Taliban combine commenced in October 2001. It is certainly the case that much of the money, both before and after 9/11, that financed terrorism in different parts of the world moved through ventures located in Dubai. The reality of this superficially modernised City State is that it runs a highly efficient operation that uses contemporary technologies and commercial systems that supports the world of disorder, lawlessness and terror, and Dubai is, indeed, a direct beneficiary of, and heavily dependent on, its linkages with this underworld.

Dubai claims that it is 'cooperating' with US authorities to shut down terrorist financing through financial networks based on its soil - but the nature of the underground system is such that it cannot be shut down selectively, disallowing transactions by one group of users, while facilitating others. Authorities in this port city have long demonstrated strong sympathies and direct commercial linkages with a terrorism-linked international criminal underground operating from its soil.

There is, at this point, little evidence that these sympathies and linkages have, in any measure, been diluted by the world's anger at the catastrophic terrorist attacks in the US, and by international anxieties regarding the rising tide of extremist Islamist terrorism. It may, however, have become temporarily necessary for ambivalent states like Dubai to try to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.

Ajay Sahni is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management and Editor, South Asia Intelligence Review of the
South Asia Terrorism Portal, courtesy which this piece appears here.

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