In what was seen as a dramatic breakthrough by India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities announced on December 8, 2002, the arrest of Anees Kaksar Ibrahim in Dubai (He was arrested on December 3, three days after his reported arrival from Pakistan). Anees is one of the fugitives on the list of 20 most wanted terrorists that had been handed over to Pakistan in the wake of the December 13, 2001 attack on India's Parliament.
The news improved on December 12 when UAE authorities asked New Delhi to initiate extradition proceedings for Ibrahim against an Interpol Red Corner notice dating back to 1993. Delhi's confidence that it would, finally, get its hands on one of the planners of, perhaps, the worst single act of terrorism in the country - the Bombay Blasts, a series of explosions at important commercial centres in the financial capital of the country, in which 257 persons were killed, and another 713 injured in 1993 - was strengthened by the fact that the UAE appeared to have changed its attitude towards the extradition or deportation of organised criminals and terrorists operating from its soil.
Two prominent fugitives - Aftab Ansari, an accused in the explosions outside the US Information Centre at Calcutta, and Muthappa Rai, an organised crime gang leader - had been deported, on February 9, 2002 and May 29, 2002, respectively, to face Indian justice.
On December 13, however, things began to unravel, with news reports that Anees had been 'released on bail' and 'deported' to Pakistan. Official confirmation is still to be received by authorities in Delhi, but evidence suggests that Anees has, once again, been allowed to slip away from Dubai into his safe haven in Karachi.
This is at least the third time this has happened: in January 1996, he was arrested in Bahrain, but was later shifted to Dubai, allegedly on the intervention of some of Dubai's ruling notables, and was then allowed to slip away to Pakistan. He was again arrested in 1998 on charges of having murdered a former associate and then rival, Irfan Goga, in Dubai, but was freed after two days for 'lack of evidence'.
These are, however, not the only occasions that Anees has had passage through Dubai, where he maintains a sprawling establishment, owns a number of other properties, operates a thriving combination of legitimate and illegitimate businesses, and where he visits regularly.
Anees' crimes in India do not date back to the terrorist incidents of 1993 alone. He continues as the operational head of the notorious D-Company, created and controlled by his brother Dawood Ibrahim - who tops the Indian 'list of 20' - which still runs the largest organised criminal network in India, and whose operations prominently include contract killing, extortion, the circulation of counterfeit currency, and the provision of a range of free-lance services to terrorist groups at the instance of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Dawood and the D-Company enjoy substantial patronage from, and association with, members of the ruling family in this tiny Shiekhdom. Their entry into Dubai was, moreover, sponsored by members of the royal family of Sharjah. It is precisely these associations that have provided immunity and a secure base to the vast range of criminal operations - including gun running across Asia and Africa, international money laundering, drug running from Afghanistan-Pakistan (before it passed out of the hands of Pakistan's ISI and into the more direct Northern routes through Central Asia and Eastern Europe), and a range of associations with terrorist organisations - including, according to reliable open media sources, with the Al Qaeda.
Indeed, speculative media reports - as yet unconfirmed by more authoritative sources - suggested that Anees Ibrahim's arrest in the present instance was actually prompted by US suspicions of possible involvement in the attacks on the Paradise Mombasa Hotel, in which 16 persons (mainly Israelis) were killed, and the abortive missile attack on an Israeli commercial plane, both in Kenya, on November 28, 2002.
The D-Company is not the only organised criminal and terrorist group that thrives in Dubai. In some ways, of course, this little "shoppers' paradise" projects an image as an unlikely associate of Islamist extremists and professional assassins. Extending a bare 72 kilometres along the coast of the Arabian Gulf, Dubai is a thriving port City State and the largest free trade zone in all of Arabia.
But underlying the glitter and the conspicuous opulence of Dubai is a permissive regime that has made it the money laundering capital of the world, and one of the favoured locations of the commercial and financial operations of transnational terrorist and organised criminal groups. It is precisely this pattern of quasi-official patronage and licentiousness that has facilitated the rise of a veritable gallery of petty criminals from India to the ranks of multinational criminal corporations.
On a random sample, Indian Mafiosi, who substantially owe their success to operations based in Dubai at one time of their career or another, include
- Abu Salem currently in custody in Portugal on charges of travel documents fraud, but wanted by both the USA and India for involvement with terrorist activity;
- Aftab Bhatki, who controls the entire fake currency operations in India on behalf of Dawood Ibrahim, and who has an Interpol Red Corner notice against him on India's request;
- Raju Anadkar, perhaps the largest money launderer in the region;
- Babloo Shrivastava, who controlled his kidnapping and extortion empire in India from Dubai, till he made the mistake of travelling to Singapore and was nabbed and extradited to India, where he currently bides his time in jail;
- Chotta Shakeel, another D-Company associate, who controls operations in Bombay from Dubai;
- Chotta Rajan, a former Dawood man, now a bitter enemy, who the 'Company' tried to assassinate in Bangkok in November 2000; and, of course,
- Dawood Ibrahim himself, though he now finds residence in Karachi, under the ISI's protection, safer than Dubai.
A substantial volume of illegal trade to and from Russia also passes through Dubai, and the Russian mafia has now established a significant presence there. The US is also said to be 'advising' Dubai on how to prevent the 'abuse' of its facilities as a free trade zone by criminal and terrorist groups.
The US investigators are currently looking into large volumes of clandestine (hawala) financial transactions by various terrorist fronts connected with the Al
Qaeda. Especially, the movement of escalating volumes of gold in innumerable unaccountable transactions since the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Indeed, Dubai is a veritable Utopia as a secure base for criminal and for terrorist financial operations that target other countries.
Sources indicate that UAE authorities have pleaded helplessness in the Anees Ibrahim case on the grounds that the country has a 'loose federal structure' and cannot exercise direct control over decisions taken in Dubai. The present structures of international law, moreover, make the Interpol - and its 'Red Corner notices' - completely toothless tigers when it comes to uncooperative regimes, as is evident not only in the Dubai case, but in innumerable cases in Pakistan as well.
The present Anees Ibrahim case has, however, one positive aspect: it has demonstrated clearly that Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, has lied blatantly, repeatedly, and on public record. He - and numberless senior officials of his government - have denied again and again that the Ibrahim brothers were in Pakistan. UAE authorities, however, disclosed that Anees Ibrahim's 'port of origin' on his present journey was Pakistan, that he was in possession of, not one, but two Pakistani passports, and that he was 'deported' to Pakistan after his release in Dubai.
December 13, the day Anees Ibrahim was released by Dubai, gifted another victory to the forces of Islamist terrorism in the region, this time in Pakistan. Maulana Masood Azhar, the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a group on the US list of international terrorist organisations, and which is also banned in both Pakistan and India, was released from jail by a 'Court order'. The Jaish remains among the most active terrorist organisations on Indian soil, and has been closely associated with the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and is believed to be an active facilitator in the rehabilitation and resurgence of Al Qaeda survivors currently in Pakistan.
Clearly, the current international legal regime is not equipped to deal with the scourge of international terrorism. All the benefits of the entire range of modern facilities - travel, banking, documentation, finance and communications - are made available to the forces of disorder by collusive regimes that wink at, or actively support their activities.
As one American investigator looking into terror-linked hawala transactions in Dubai is reported to have expressed it, "there is a wilful blindness there". The growth and persistence of terrorism is a deeply collusive activity, and many regimes - not just the active sponsors of terrorism and transnational crime - are deeply implicated. Among these, Pakistan and Dubai - certainly for different reasons - merit (dis)honourable mention.
The international community will have to devise new legislative and enforcement measures if the movement of terrorist cadres, weaponry and finances is to be choked off. Otherwise, the civilised world will find itself at a growing disadvantage against what Bernard Lewis has aptly, though in another context, described as "a string of shabby tyrannies, ranging from traditional autocracies to dictatorships that are modern only in their apparatus of repression and indoctrination."
The author is Editor, SAIR (South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal); Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management
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