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Surviving terrorist hails from Pakistani Punjab: Report
December 07, 2008 19:35 IST
Reinforcing India's assertion that the Mumbai attacks had Pakistani links, a leading Londoan daily has said the lone surviving terrorist arrested during the strikes belongs to a village in Okara district of Pakistan's Punjab, an "active" recruiting ground for Lashkar-e-Toiba.
Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman interrogated in custody after the terror attacks that killed 183 people reportedly told Indian security officials that he came from a place called Faridkot village in Pakistan's Punjab province. His father was named as Mohammed Amir, married to a woman named Noor.
During the past week, Pakistani officials have cast doubt over the authenticity of the information about the terrorist.
According to a report in The Observer on Sunday, the newspaper, in an investigation conducted by it, has obtained electoral lists for Faridkot showing 478 registered voters, including one Mohammed Amir, married to Noor Elahi. Amir's and Noor's national identity card numbers have also been obtained.
At the address mentioned in the list, a man identifying himself as Sultan said he was the father-in-law of Mohammed Amir. A villager, who cannot be named for his own protection, said the village was "an active recruiting ground for the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Tayiba. We know that boy caught in Mumbai is from Faridkot. We knew from the first night of the attack. They brainwash our youth about jihad, there are people who do it in this village. It is so wrong," he was quoted as saying.
According to the villager and other locals, Ajmal has not lived in Faridkot for about four years but would return to see his family once a year and frequently talked of "freeing" Kashmir from the Indian rule.
The truth about Ajmal's origins are key to the ongoing investigation of where the attackers came from and will have a profound impact on relations between India and Pakistan, the paper said.
Islamabad [Images] has repeatedly said that no proof has been provided to back Indian assertions that all the terrorists came from Pakistan.
According to The Observer, it has tracked down Ajmal's home--and his grandfather--and found "conclusive proof" of his identity. The newspaper also published the photograph of the food cart owned by Ajmal's father and that of his house.
After many people tried to mislead the correspondent of the British daily, one villager confirmed saying: "You're being given misinformation. We've all known from the first day of the news of the terrorist attack that it was him, Ajmal Amir. His mother started crying when she saw his picture on the television."
Attempts to meet Ajmal's father, however, were not to be successful. Villagers eventually said that he and his wife Noor had been mysteriously spirited away earlier in the week.
"Ajmal used to go to Lahore [Images] for work as a labourer," continued the villager who feared being named. "He's been away for may be four years. When he came back once a year, he would say things like, 'We are going to free Kashmir.'" Ajmal had little education, according to locals. But it is still unclear whether he was radicalised in the village or once he had left to work elsewhere.
It is said that from the age of 13 he was shuttled between his parents' house and that of a brother in Lahore. If he did indeed speak fluent English, as claimed in Indian press reports, he would have had to have learnt that after he left the village.
But the villager who turned whistle-blower said that local religious clerics were brainwashing youths in the area and that Lashkar-e-Toiba's founder, Hafiz Saeed, had visited nearby Depalpur, where there were 'hundreds' of supporters, the report said.
There was an LeT office in Depalpur but that had been hurriedly closed in the past few days. The Lashkar-e-Toiba newspaper is distributed in Depalpur and Faridkot.
Depalpur lies in the south of Punjab province, an economically backward area long known for producing 'jihadists'.
Shown a picture of Ajmal, the villager confirmed that he was the former Faridkot resident, who had last visited the village a couple of months ago during the festival of Eid.
Some locals claimed that Faridkot and another poor village nearby called Tara Singh are a recruitment hotbed for Lashkar-e-Toiba.
On the side of a building, just outside Faridkot, is graffiti that says; "Go for jihad. For for jihad. Markaz Dawat ul-Irshad," which is also linked to the LeT.
In Depalpur, a banner on the side of the main street asks people to devote goatskins to Jamaat-ud Dawa, the parent organisation of the LeT.
Tara Singh is home to a radical madrassa and there is another hardline seminary in nearby Depalpur. The nazim or mayor of Tara Singh, Rao Zaeem Haider, said: "There is a religious trend here. Some go for 'jihad', but not too many."
According to the report, it has been said that when Ajmal was chosen for the Lashkar basic combat training, he performed so well that he was among a group of 32 men selected to undergo advanced training at a camp near Manshera, a course the organisation calls the 'Duara Khaas'.
And finally, it seems, he was among an even smaller group selected for specialised commando and navigation training given to the 'fidayeen' unit selected to attack Mumbai.
The Pakistani authorities may now attempt to deny that Ajmal's parents live in Faridkot, but, according to some locals, they have been there for some 20 years, the paper said.
A crucial piece of evidence the newspaper managed to obtain was an electoral roll for Faridkot, which falls under union council number 5, tehsil Depalpur, district Okara.
The list of 478 registered voters shows a "Mohammed Amir", married to Noor Elahi, living in Faridkot. Amir's national identity card number is given as 3530121767339, and Noor's is 3530157035058.
That appears to be the last piece of the jigsaw. A man called Amir and his wife, Noor, do live in Faridkot, official records show. They have a son called Ajmal.
Following the visit of the newspaper correspondent to Faridkot, the mayor, Wattoo, announced via the loudspeaker at the mosque that no one was to speak to any outsiders. By yesterday, Pakistani intelligence officials had descended in force on Faridkot.
Locals, speaking by telephone, said a Pakistani TV crew and an American journalist had been roughed up and run out of town. It appeared that the backlash had begun, the paper said.