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What's the mystery behind Tunda's presence in Kenya?

By B Raman
July 22, 2006 15:10 IST
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After Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda issued a fatwa in 1998, calling for a global jihad against the US and the Jewish people, one wondered where the first terrorist strike would come. One had the answer in August 1998.

It came in Nairobi where a motor vehicle filled with ammonium nitrate exploded outside the US embassy. Simultaneously, there was a similar explosion outside the US embassy in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. About 300 innocent civilians were killed in both the incidents.

Some of those who participated in the planning and execution of the explosion in Nairobi fled to Pakistan after the explosion. Their presence in Pakistan was detected by US intelligence. The Pakistani authorities arrested and handed them over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

There were no terrorist strikes by Al Qaeda against Israeli or Jewish targets till 2002. In the middle of 2002, it stepped up its propaganda against Israel and the Jewish people. One wondered whether this presaged a terrorist strike specifically directed against Israel and the Jewish people and, if so, where it would come. One had the answer in November 2002.

A motor vehicle filled with explosives exploded outside a Mombasa hotel frequented by Israeli and other tourists, killing 13 of them. Almost simultaneously, a terrorist fired from the ground against an Israeli plane carrying Israeli tourists back to Israel. The pilot noticed the firing of the missile in time and took evasive action. The attack failed.

These three incidents showed that Kenya had become an important base for the operations of Al Qaeda. In that Kenya -- in Mombasa to be exact -- has been found Abdul Karim also known as Abdul Karim Tunda, an Indian who used to run a homeopathy medicine shop in the Ghaziabad area of Uttar Pradesh before joining the Mumbai cell of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba along with three others.

He rose to be the No 2 position in the Lashkar in India and is wanted by the police departments of many Indian states for his involvement in over 30 terrorist strikes -- most of them involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) -- in different parts of north India since December 1992.

In January 1994, he escaped to Dhaka and started coordinating Lashkar operations in India from there. He also reportedly ran a training centre on Bangladeshi territory for training jihadi recruits from India, Bangladesh, the Arakan area of Myanmar and southern Thailand in the fabrication of IEDs.

In November 2003, rumours circulated in Bangladesh and Pakistan that Tunda had joined one of the organised crime groups of Bangladesh and had been killed in a gang war in Dhaka. However, Abdul Razzak Masood, the alleged Lashkar chief coordinator in Dubai, who was arrested by the Delhi police in August 2005, claimed during his interrogation that Tunda was alive and living with his two wives and two sons in a house near the Lashkar headquarters at Muridke in Pakistani Punjab.

He also reportedly disclosed that in Dhaka, Tunda used to call himself Abdur Rehman or Suleiman and was known in the local jihadi circles as Baba. He also claimed that Tunda had started a centre in Dhaka for research into the fabrication of explosive devices. It was also reported that he was experimenting often with chemicals.

Since Tunda was wanted for trial in India in over 30 cases of terrorism, his name had been circulated by the Interpol in its periodic red alerts issued to member-countries, requesting them to look for him in their territory, arrest him, if found, and inform the Government of India. Neither the governments of Bangladesh nor that of Pakistan acted on these alerts.

Quoting Kenyan authorities, a foreign news agency reported on July 21, 2006 that Kenyan authorities had arrested Tunda in Mombasa on the basis of an Interpol alert. It was not clear whether the reference is to the past alerts or to any alert which might have been issued after the Mumbai blasts of July 11, 2006.

If the Kenyan authorities hand him over to India, it would be an important breakthrough for Indian intelligence and security agencies in their fight against jihadi terrorism in general and the Lashkar in particular. He would have a wealth of information on both these subjects.

It would be premature to say what role he might have had in the planning and execution of the 11/7 blasts. The details would come out only when he is interrogated.

There are a number of questions without answers so far: where did the Kenyan authorities arrest him -- at the airport on his arrival or in the town after his arrival? If he was arrested on his arrival, where was he coming from? If he was arrested in the town, when and from where he had reached Mombasa?

After the Mumbai blasts of March 12, 1993, all those involved escaped to Karachi via Dubai or Kathmandu. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence had them all shifted to Bangkok. It kept them there in different hotels for some weeks and brought them back to Karachi only after the diplomatic and journalistic interest in the case had died down.

Has it done a similar thing in respect of the terrorists involved in the planning and/or execution of the 11/7 blasts and moved them to Mombasa and other places? Was Tunda moved as part of this exercise? If so, who are the others who might have been similarly moved? Where are they now? Are there any other terrorists hiding in Mombasa as part of this exercise?

These questions need a thorough probing.

External link: From Frontline magazine: Unending War

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B Raman