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Armitage helps India in Abu Salem case

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC
January 24, 2003 09:43 IST
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The United States is using its influence "at the highest level" to expedite gangster Abu Salem Ansari's extradition from Portugal.

Abu Salem, an associate of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, was arrested in Lisbon last September by the Portuguese government on a tip-off from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

US Ambassador Robert Blackwill told in Washington that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is assisting India in its efforts to convince Portugal to extradite Salem.

"One of the FBI's preoccupations is Abu Salem's extradition from Portugal to India to face justice," the ambassador said.

Portuguese law enforcement officials arrested Salem after the FBI, which wanted to question the gangster on possible links to Al Qaeda, alerted them to his presence in Lisbon. Salem was traveling on a false passport and was arrested on that charge.

But Blackwill acknowledged that Salem is unlikely to leave Portugal soon. "What we are seeking to do is purely a subsidiary role -- to assist the Government of India in persuading the government of Portugal to send him back to India," he added.

The ambassador said he had alerted the State Department immediately after Salem's arrest and asked how the US could help India secure the gangster's extradition.

Within two hours of making that call, he revealed, "our Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was fully engaged on that issue."

Blackwill disclosed Armitage had gotten involved even before he received a formal request from the Indian government, asking for assistance.

"Since then in Delhi, Lisbon and Washington, we are in constant discussion," the ambassador said, adding, "It is important he (Salem) face trial for his offenses."

Blackwill used the Salem case to illustrate how the India-US relationship is changing for the better. "You can invent that kind of cooperation in a moment," he said. "It is evidence of the new standard operating procedures in the (India-US) relationship now."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC