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March 2002

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Omar Sheikh: Profile of a kidnapper

 

By Subroto Mukherjee

 

 

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is a man with many names  but one purpose: waging a war of terror against Indian and American targets.

A profile on Omar Sheikh (also Sheikh Syed, Mustafa Muhammad Ahmed, Chaudhry Bashir Ahmed Shabir and Imtiaz Siddique) prepared by M.J.Gohel, chairman of the Asia Pacific Foundation paints the picture of the youth from East London who rose swiftly to terrorist heights.

Following is a profile of Sheikh's rise to terror:

1968: Sheikh's parents, Saeed Ahmed Sheikh and Qaissia, both Pakistanis, migrate to the UK. 


1973: Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh born 23 December, in Wanstead, east London, UK. He later has a younger brother Awais Sheikh and sister Hajira Sheikh.

Sheikh does his schooling in the UK at Nightingale Primary School and later at Forest School at Snaresbrook where he has a short lived romance with an English girl known as 'Sarah'. England Cricket Captain Nasser Hussain is a classmate at Snaresbrook.

1977: Sheikh's family purchase house in London and establish garment business: Perfect Fashions, annual turn-over of 500,00 ($800,000).

1991: Sheikh obtains admission to London School of Economics to study mathematics and statistics. While at LSE, Sheikh starts a  shares and equities business, earning up to 1000 pounds ($1,500) a day from a chain of retail customers he had set up using his father's business base. Sheikh also shows a keen interest in chess and arm wrestling. But then Sheikh suddenly drops out of the LSE.

1992: Sheikh, influenced by UK extremist Islamic groups and a film on Bosnia (Destruction of a Nation) goes on a trip to Bosnia with an organisation called Convoy of Mercy and comes into contact with jehadi groups. Later that year Sheikh attends the World Arm Wrestling Championship in Geneva, Switzerland.

At this time Sheikh is in contact with Maulana Ismail of Clifton Mosque in North London, who it is believed inspired him to join Harkat ul Mujahideen (HuM) and to go to Kashmir in India for jehad, and to secure the release of Maulana Masood Azhar.  Sheikh becomes a member of the HuM.

1993: Sheikh slips into India and organises  arson and bombing attacks in a campaign to secure the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, and masterminds the kidnapping of four western hostages, three of whom are British - Rhys Partridge, Paul Rideout and Christopher Myles, and an American, Bela Nuss. He befriends them and lures them into a trap.

Indian police trace him to the hideout and in the ensuing gunfight Sheikh is shot and captured by New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh State police.

Sheikh is taken to Ghaziabad hospital for treatment, he punches a deputy superintendent of police, and threatens to track down and kill the constable who had slapped him back.

Later at the Meerut jail, he kicks the jail superintendent, and is shifted to high security Tihar jail in New Delhi, after the Uttar Pradesh State Police categorised him as 'dreaded'. 


1995: Sheikh's group, now the Harkat ul Ansar (HuA), operating under the name Al-Faran kidnaps six western tourists in the hill resort of Pahalgam in southern Kashmir, India. The six are John Childs, 41 (American), Donald Hutchings, 42 (American), Paul Wells, 23 (British), Keith Mangan, 33 (British), Dirk Hasert, 36 (German), and Hans Christian Ostro, 27 (Norwegian).

Childs manages to escape but the beheaded body of Ostro is discovered in August  with a note from the HuA demanding the release within two days of 15 jailed Islamic terrorists, including Sheikh, and Maulana Masood Azhar.  No news has been heard to date of the other western hostages, all believed to have been killed in December.

Later in the year Sheikh and the HuM to which HUA has reverted, become signatories to the Bin Laden Fatwa calling for jehadis to kill Americans, including American civilians.

1999: On 24 December Indian Airlines Airbus, Flight IC 814 en route to Kathmandu is hijacked by five HuM terrorists, but it is suspected to be an operation ordered by Al-Qaeda for the specific purpose of demanding the release of Sheikh and Azhar. 

Sheikh, Maulana Masood Azhar, and Mushtaq Zargar (Al Umar terrorist group) are released. The released trio surface in Pakistan. International security agencies request Pakistan to locate and arrest the trio. Sheikh disappears from Pakistan and surfaces in Afghanistan with Taliban/Al-Qaeda fighters.

2001: Sheikh suspected by western intelligence of wiring $100,000 (71,000) from Dubai to 11 September US attack leader Mohammed Atta and co-conspirator Marwan al Shehhi, another Saudi citizen.

US Special Forces in Afghanistan discover boarding passes for the hijacked Indian Airlines Airbus, Flight IC-814, and other evidence of Al-Qaeda links to HuM and JeM from the search of abandoned terrorist camps.

Media reports, quoting FBI sources, state that Lt-Gen Ahmad lost his job because of the evidence, consisting of cell phone conversations, indicating his links to Sheikh, and that the US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that the $100,000 wired to Atta and al Shehhi by Sheikh was at the instance of Lt-Gen Ahmad.

Aftab Ansari (aka Farhan Malik), a Pakistani citizen, and living in Dubai telephones newspapers and claims responsibility for the attack on the US Centre in Calcutta (Kolkata). The caller said he was from Harkat-ul Jehad-ul Islami (HUGI) and said the attack was in protest against "the evil empire of America".

Ansari, originally a resident of Varanasi, was taken to Pakistan last year (2001) by Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, and put in contact with Sheikh. 

2002:

On February 5 under mounting US pressure on Islamabad to find Daniel Pearl, Sheikh's relatives in Pakistan are taken into custody and his aunt in Pakistan speaks to him on his cell phone with a message to give himself up: "I think your game is out and we didn't know you were indulging in this. You better hand over yourself."

On February 9 Aftab Ansari is arrested by Dubai police and deported to India.

On February 10 Ansari admits to his involvement in the attack on the USIS Centre and about his links with terrorists and jehadi groups in Pakistan, and especially with Sheikh and the HuM.

On February 12, Pakistan, announces that Sheikh has been arrested in Lahore, Pakistan. The news of the arrest came just prior to a scheduled meeting in Washington between US President  George Bush and Pakistani military ruler General Musharraf, on a visit to the US to seek financial aid for his country.